Beginnings are hard. You want to start off on the right foot, the right track, with just the right tone. But they are also arbitrary, a chosen moment selected from all the possibilities (including the ones yet to be discovered or considered), and personal.
I had wanted to post on the first day of the new year but didn’t feel I had anything to say. But it was because I was hung up on beginnings — both in a blog post and in my writing — that I felt trapped. Earlier this week, when it was still the old year, I tried a new beginning to the story that has been dogging me. I had streamlined the story yet again, removed characters, simplified the setting, all in an attempt to wrestle it under control.
It feels wrong. Like a drawing where the character of an object is held within the shape of a line, the words have trailed out of bounds and I find myself mentally erasing and drawing over the same territory. I need a fresh start, a new canvas, a different tool, a stronger line.
In a different life, a previous incarnation when I considered myself in training to be a visual artist, we had exercises to help break the barriers of over-thinking the process. We would turn images upside down and draw them as we saw them, then turn them right-side up and study the results. We would do life drawings of people without looking at the paper, freeing ourselves from judging the lines in progress and, by extension, altering the process. We would learn how to look not at the objects but at the spaces between the objects, the negative space, to learn about the relationships between things. Our brains were trained to see the things that were invisible but integral to the process of visual representation.
But I can’t necessarily write upside down, or write only the sentences between the sentences, or tell the story that isn’t the story — or can I? My advisor this past semester, Margaret Bechard, related how her editor made her change point-of-view on her last novel, made her include characters, write the story from different perspectives. These are similar exercises but not exactly the same. They have the potential to open doors and add insights, to allow the story to be seen in different perspectives, but they don’t feel radical enough to force me to see the story for what it can be. I need something that forces out the invisible, the negative spaces, the shape of the story beyond its margins.
But most importantly, I need to know that first line.