Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Start here

I love notebooks and can hardly resist adding another to my collection when I'm in an office supply store. A new notebook is so full of possibility. Maybe this time I'll make the transition from glistening idea to actual story with no loss.

I always start a new writing project with a new notebook and a new pen. Once I have the notebook I often put pictures or mementos on the cover to remind myself that it is not just a generic notebook but it is the physical "hatching place" for whatever is to come.

I'm beginning to think about a new project this month and I've been wondering how others writers start out. What can we learn from each other?

I asked some friends to share their "starts" and will be posting this week about what they have told me. I hope some readers will also be moved to share how you begin a piece of writing, whether it's a poem, a children's story, an essay, a school assignment or a piece of freelance writing.

Nancy Werlin, National Book Award finalist (Rules of Survival) and Edgar Award winner (Killer's Cousin), and, most recently, author of Extraordinary and Impossible, told me:

"I think and think and think, sometimes for years, in the back of my mind while I'm doing other things, and then one day I am ready to sit down and open a file and start writing. It doesn't go smoothly after that -- there are always fits and starts -- but one day, I open a file and write."

This morning, while I was walking and waiting for herons, I was reminded of Nancy's comment and wondered if I have too much of a tendency to pursue stories as if they were runaway rabbits, to chase them into their hole and then drag them out. Perhaps I would do better to be more relaxed about it, to wait patiently, enjoying the sunshine, for the stories to nibble on my toes, as it sounds like Nancy does.

I'm going to try that with this new notebook and new pen.

And speaking of sunshine, here's a wonderful poem by 14th century Iranian poet Hafiz, a gift in my mail today from Ellen Levine.

Even after all this time
the sun never says to the earth,
You owe me.

Look what happens with
a love like that.
It lights up the sky.

Perhaps every beginning starts with love-- some kind of love--love of character, love of story, or as E.B. White, once said: "I just wanted to say I love the world."


  1. Jackie,

    I've always meant to ask you about Nancy's work--you're mentioned in most of her acknowledgements. Rules of Survival brands us all with truth--one of my fave books of all time. I recommended that it be added to our reading list.

    How wonderful to know that Nancy also experiences "fits and starts." Stories are omnipresent--we don't have to chase them. We just have to stay on alert when they come about.

    Write on,


  2. Rules of Survival is indeed a gritty, wonderful book, deserving of the recognition it got.

    I'm practicing "alert," instead of chasing.

  3. Seems you've done a wonderful job on alert thus far, J! Keep on! :0)