Where Do You Start?

“Where do you start?” “How do you start?”

These may be the two most common questions people ask, specifically about writing their life story, but the questions apply to any type of writing project.

You start by writing, and you start anywhere. Start with the first thought that comes to mind. Write about that and keep writing. If you can’t think of anything else to write about, write about not knowing where to start, and keep writing. Words will begin to flow, and a story will slowly take shape. One word, one thought, will lead to another.

I can’t credit a specific source for those words, they are universal, but Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg come to mind. Anne mentions this concept continually in her classic, Bird by Bird, and Natalie hits on it regularly as she develops the concept of Writing Practice in her best-selling series of books about writing: Writing Down the Bones, Wild Mind, and Old Friend from Far Away.

Last week I found this concept of just starting — anywhere at all — useful for cleaning the garage, a project I could easily put off for a decade, a situation quite similar to writer's block. Faced with an overwhelming task, I started quite simply, by consolidating flattened boxes previously set aside for recycling and adding more to the pile. That led to sweeping a tiny patch. Then I had room to rearrange the shelves behind the pile ... and so it went. Even without a project plan, each step led to another. I’m not done, but the the project has shape now, and momentum is building. I'm actually getting excited about it and look forward to going out there to work again.

The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing began the same way, but it didn’t begin as a book. It began with a single flier describing the first life story writing workshop I ever taught. I had no idea where to start when I wrote that flier. It grew from there, through many phases that included stacks and piles of handouts with overlapping material, and more stacks and piles of stories and essays.

That finished book barely scratches the surface of my reservoir. Several other projects are taking shape that will tap more of its contents. Since I don’t work on each project regularly, they get cold and I lose my sense of direction. When I go back to one, I must start fresh, but not from scratch. Each time I’m a little bewildered about where to start, but it’s getting easier. Soon I'll make a commitment to a single one and finish it.

No, it doesn’t matter where you start. Just get those fingers moving, over paper or the keyboard. Let the words flow. Stories, even finished projects, will happen.

Write now: about a time when you had trouble getting a project started and how you handled this. You might write about a writing project or another one. Every project is the same. It has to be started, and it’s not always easy to know how.


ybonesy said...

So true, the start of anything can be so overwhelming as to paralyze us, freeze us in place so we don't start at all. I especially find that to be the case on moving projects -- either packing or unpacking. Also cleaning. And writing.

Good post. Thanks for including our Writing Practice link. Hope you're doing well.

Ritergal said...

Hi Ybonsey,

Do beginnings freeze fingers or hearts?

Writing is like life.
Life is like writing.
Life writing.
Writing life.
I live to write.
I write to live.

Words are my favorite toys.