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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The Key to Rocking Nearly Every Type of Writing

Ever feel like your writing is falling absolutely flat on the page? Like its pulse has flatlined and you don’t know how to revive it?

There’s a simple way to get those vital signs back to a strong, healthy level. It doesn’t always take a complete overhaul to improve a piece of writing. Sometimes you just need this one missing element and your writing can breathe, dance, and kick ass again.

What is it?

Tension.

And I believe this applies to almost every kind of writing: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, copywriting, resume writing (yes, even resumes!), article writing, blog posts, tweets, Facebook statuses, newsletters, ebooks, informational reports. Maybe even grocery lists. But that depends on how creative you feel like getting in your daily life.

Think about it.

Tension holds attention. Say that out loud and tell me that doesn’t just sound like it makes sense. Those words are entwined.

Tension comes in many forms. In fiction, tension is all the horrible things you throw in your character’s way as she tries to attain that one thing she needs and wants more than anything else.

In copywriting, it happens when you address your reader’s pain points and teach them how you’ll help make their lives  better.

In blog posts, tension exists as a way to transmit useful information, or simply as a way to tell an engaging story to a captive audience.

It even applies to social media– write about your breakfast on Facebook, and you’ll get zero attention. But ask a question that creates an emotional response (which, essentially, is all tension is) or write about your break up, and suddenly you’ve got an audience, right?

Resumes have their own type of tension, too– your resume should illustrate the problems you helped fix and improve at your previous jobs. There you have it: tension + solution. The result? Engagement.

Tension doesn’t always have to be negative. Instead, onsider it a way to amp up your reader’s emotions enough that they care about what you’re writing.

Tension often allows readers to connect with your writing. If they can feel something, they’re in.

Tell me, do you consciously think about tension when you’re writing? Do you think it’s the key to good writing?