What It Means To Start

Up in the treetops

Over the summer, I enrolled in Sarah Selecky’s course, Story is a State of Mind. I was part of the Summer School intensive, which meant I was going through the course in real-time with my classmates, and was accountable each Monday to post my assignment to our Wiki group, comment on the readings, and give my classmates feedback.

For me, it’s easier to start writing something when I’m accountable to someone else. I think it feeds into my desire to meet other people’s expectations of me, but that’s a psychoanalysis for another blog post.

Ever since the course ended in early September, I’ve been sitting on this draft of a story that I started during the program.

I think about the story and the main character all the time. I actually feel a little bit haunted by one line in particular that I wrote. I don’t know where it came from, but it startles me. And I know that’s good writing.

But getting started with the next step of the process is sort of killing me. The story needs to be finished, first of all. And then it needs revising and polishing. And another set of eyes on it for good measure.

But again– starting is killing me.

This is nothing new to you writers and artists out there. I’m sure this form of resistance is an old song and dance for many creatives.

It’s the same feeling I had when I went zip lining for the first time this summer. I was in New Hampshire with my husband and my family. We went to this aerial adventure course in the treetops of Loon Mountain. There were multiple zip lines throughout the course, ranging in length and height off the ground.

On the first line, I felt resistance. I hooked in my harness the way the instructor showed us. I had my hand in the right position to keep my body facing forward as I zipped through the trees. The prep work was done, but I physically couldn’t get off the platform. Every inch of my being resisted stepping off.

Someone recommended leaning back into my butt, where the harness basically cradles your entire body. When you feel that support, you know you can let go and be safe.

They were right. Once I leaned back just a touch and felt the support o the harness, I knew I could push past the physical resistance and just let go. So I did. And you know what? It was freaking great! Zip lines make you feel like a badass.

How does this relate to writing? Well, I’m standing on the platform with this story. I’m harnessed in. I can sort of see the other side. I just need to start the process and get back into the story. I need to lean into the harness and trust. And the harness is there, in so many forms– an MFA, feedback from other writers, encouragement from writer friends, a general sense of knowing this can be done because I’ve done it before, after all.

Why is it so hard to start? Because of what it means.

To start means to surrender, to have faith, to risk it all. To take the chance that the harness might snap mid-line, but to do it anyway.

Yet to start also means to take the chance that the harness will hold you until you get to the end of the line, that it’ll cradle your efforts the entire way, and release you safely on the other side. And then you’ll have to accept the fact that you did it. Even if your work never gets published, or earns you thirty rejection letters, or ends up spending the rest of its life on an external hard drive collecting dust, you did it.

What it means to start is this: letting go, and giving yourself a chance to see what you’re made of.

That’s me on the zip line!

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