Beginning, or Not
By Elisabeth Hyde
This fall I’ve been trying to start a new novel. I hate this stage and will do anything to avoid it. One morning I was actually thankful for the dead mouse smell in the basement, so that I could otherwise occupy myself for another three hours.
It’s not just the fear of failure that keeps me from writing those first pages – it’s knowing how much I’m going to flounder before I figure out the damn book I’m trying to write. I’ve written five novels, and all of them have involved throwing away at least the first 200 pages. I keep reminding myself that it’s all part of the process, but still: when I’m starting a new novel, the idea of being an accountant, or a pet euthanizer, suddenly has a lot of appeal.
Here’s my short-list of avoidance techniques:
- Digitize pictures of your ancestors
- Make backup disks of the kids’ high school essays
- Take a special 5-mile trip to the hardware store for a whiskbroom
- Learn origami so you can make cool gift tags this Christmas
- Practice the guitar
- Identify all the birds that come to your feeder in one morning and mark them in your Field Guide
- Rehearse an encounter with a mountain lion, which is a pretty good possibility here in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains; see just how big and fierce you can make yourself appear to a 300 pound cat
- Read the fine-print on your insurance policy
- Redo your will
- Clean out the storage shed where you’re paying $57/month to store the kids’ Legos
- Google knitting patterns
- Find out where to recycle old wine corks
- Spend a morning fiddling with your keyboard height so that your workspace is ergonomically correct
- Spend another morning at the Better Back Store trying out office chairs that cost twice as much as a new laptop
- Make a Genius appointment at the Apple store to find out what iDisk does for the $100/year you’re paying
- Learn how to use the power drill you got last Christmas, so that you can drill two tiny holes in the front door molding and attach the doorbell ringer with two tiny screws, making sure that it’s absolutely perfectly straight. Which takes a really long time.
- Color code your husband’s shirts
- Color code your T-shirts
- Discover you have 14 black T-shirts, take a pile to the thrift shop, and come home with more than you donated
- Learn how to put on eyeliner
- Learn how to take off eyeliner
- Read Al Gore’s speeches
Okay, I didn’t read Al Gore’s speeches this fall. But I did do just about everything else to avoid the dreaded first page. To paraphrase Gene Fowler, it’s easy to start a novel; all you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
But here’s what blows me away: while I’m down in my husband’s workshop sorting his nails into little cubbies, someone else has turned on the coffee maker. Words are beginning to percolate. Plots are hatching. Characters are starting to speak their minds. And suddenly it wouldn’t matter if there was a mountain lion climbing onto my deck and pawing at the door – there I am, practically flying to the computer to click on that Word icon, and I place my hands on the keyboard and close my eyes and just listen: because that first line is already channeling itself from my brain down through my fingertips and onto the screen, where a whole new story is waiting to be told.
About the author:
Elisabeth Hyde is the author of four previous novels, including The Abortionist’s Daughter and Crazy as Chocolate. Born and raised in New Hampshire, she has since lived in Vermont, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Seattle. In 1979 she received her law degree and practiced briefly with the U.S. Department of Justice. She has taught creative writing in the public schools as well as through Naropa University. She currently lives with her husband and three children in Colorado, where she is at work on her sixth novel. http://www.elisabethhyde.com and http://www.metro.us/us/article/2009/07/20/21/1435-82/index.xml
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