Learning My Process: Starting is Always the Hardest Part

I’ve said it before, and I will probably say it again: starting is hands down the hardest part of writing. Of anything really. Overcoming the inertia of “before” to begin. Swiping aside the anxiety and doubt that what you create will never be as good as what you imagined. Flailing in the feeling of “I have no idea what I’m doing.” It is hard. And without excitement (or a little liquid courage) we would probably never do it. But that doesn’t just apply to writing or first drafting.

I’m in the middle of re-outlining my novel—taking what exists on the page, reshaping it and filling in the gaps to plan what should be there—in preparation for writing the second draft. And one of the things I’ve realized in this process is that there are a lot of beginnings to overcome. I think we usually imagine drafting as the official start of a writing project and once we’ve passed that phase there are no new beginnings, only next steps. You never again have to stare at an empty page, trying to craft this story from nothing because parts of it already exist. And to a certain extent, that’s true. But there are a lot of smaller beginnings you’ll encounter through the rest of the journey.

For me, starting writing is usually marked by hesitation, doubt, and procrastination. Even when I’m excited about the story, putting those first words down on can be really stressful. I’ve come to expect that and I motivate myself through that moment by remembering that I can delete a bad start later. But I didn’t expect these first step feelings crop up during the revision process. Yet, when I moved from reading through my manuscript to making a revision plan, I felt that same hesitation and doubt. Then it happened again when I moved from deepening character profiles to a high-level outline, and again when I tackled scene-by-scene outlining. Even when I moved through different parts of the story, plotting a new beat, act, or chapter, I felt the symptoms of new beginnings anxiety creep in. It reminded me of how, during NaNoWriMo, the most difficult part of a writing session was the first fifteen minutes. I’d sit down every day to dive back into my story and end up procrastinating with anything else. But once I forced myself past that resistance, I’d usually find a good flow and not want to stop. Then the process would repeat the next day.

So I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me that some of the same resistance would come up during revisions, especially since I haven’t really done this before. But it took me a while to realize what was happening, to understand that it wasn’t something wrong with my story, it was about me and what was going on in my head. Understanding that has made it easier to trick myself into pushing past the doubt and hesitation using tricks I learned during NaNo. Never ending a session without knowing where I needed to start the next day is a big part of it, as is telling myself that I only need to work for twenty minutes and then I can stop if I really want to.

One of the things I love about being a writer is the ongoing learning and growing. Of course, the biggest way we grow is in the writing itself: becoming stronger storytellers with a better grasp on the mechanics of prose. But I also get a kick out of leveling up my process and better understanding the way that I work. Knowing that beginnings are really hard for me at all stages of the process doesn’t mean that the hesitation, procrastination, and doubt goes away. From what I can tell from other writers, that’s probably always going to be hard for me. Being aware of it just means that it’s no longer a problem to be fixed, it’s a thing that happens. And another thing that happens is that if I acknowledge it and baby myself through the beginning, I can power through to the end.

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