Just Start

Tonight I get to be a part of my first ever, Ask An Author Anything webinar and I am incredibly excited. But not because I like to be on camera. Hair and make-up prep time; camera crews with their bright, unforgiving lights; and little interview-y questions that make you bare your soul, expose your semi-intelligence and half-witted-humor and inevitably lead you to cry- are not my favorite things in the world. All the same, I am excited for this little webinar on writing because there are some things about the writing life that I wish I would have known up front. I needed a big-writing-sister to tell me writing secrets in the same way that I needed an already-been-there-sister to tell me about boys and kissing. 

I hope you will join me tonight (or register to receive the webinar link and watch later!) and feel like you are learning a thing or two from a sister who has walked a tiny bit of the writing road. 

If I had a writing sister (And I sort of did. Her name is Annie Dillard and her handed-down advice came to me through a book called The Writing Life. There was also Anne Lamott and her kissing-wisdom in Bird by Bird. And also a big brother, Robert Benson, who taught me through Dancing on the Head of a Pen) my writing sister would say, "JUST START JENNY." 

And I would petulantly respond, "Where? How? Why? WHY? What do I even write about? What will the book be called and how will I title the chapters? And what happens at the end and is this beginning strong enough?!?"

And I would cry as all baby sisters do.
And my big sister would say again, "JUST. WRITE." 

She would go on to tell me what I now know. Don't worry about the name of the book or the chapter titles. Don't know how it ends? Welcome to authentic living. None of us have the ending figured out yet---write anyways. How to start? Not at the beginning, she would say. That's for sure. Skip the beginning. Heck, skip the first five words of the sentence and start somewhere in the middle if you must--- but start. 

As I sat down to write my first book, The Road to Becoming, I knew the story and I had told it a hundred times from stage, but I had no idea how to start writing it and I realized very quickly that writing it down was vastly different than speaking it. I almost didn't write the book because I didn't know where to start. And I think that can be said for so many things in our lives. How many times have I not done something simply because I wasn't brave enough to stick one foot out over the ledge into the unknown? How many times have I not done something because I wanted the game plan first; the outline; the road-map that took me directly to a victorious finish-line. How many times have I given up before I even started because I convinced myself that if I couldn't even start, there was no way I could conquer this unknown thing in front of me? I could use a big sister telling me to just start in so many areas of my life. 

If you hear one thing from me tonight, it will probably be this: I finished. Me! The girl who never finishes anything! The girl who reluctantly, fearfully starts and usually fizzles out somewhere in-between when it gets hard, monotonous, tedious, ambiguous or complicated. I finished my first book (and am working on my second!) and the only reason I finished is because I finally got brave enough to start. 

I started in the middle. Mid-sentence, as a matter of fact. I didn't know how to properly start a book and quite honestly didn't know how the book would end because the story hadn't played all the way out yet. I started anyways. I didn't know the names of chapters or have the book neatly laid out. I started anyways. I wrote without knowing how long a book should be, how many stories it should contain, or what the word count was. I wrote anyways. I started without the promise of a book deal; I merely started with the knowledge that I wanted Annie to know our story, wanted to my parents to be proud of their deep legacy on our lives and wanted anyone else who read it to know that it was ok to grieve, bury, be lost and then be found again. I started based on that. With as much will power as I could eek out and the constant-hovering-presence of my husband who pushed me along the way, I finally sat down one day and started something I was convinced was way out of my league, but started all the same. 

And it turns out that out of all the mechanics, insider-secrets, story crafting and editorial advice I could have gotten from a big-writing-sister in the beginning, what I really needed was her voice saying "Just start Jenny." 

And maybe you need that voice too. It might be writing a book or starting to train for a marathon or piecing together a work of art or organizing the dream trip or organizing the local food pantry or finally losing weight or putting down the cigarettes or re-connecting with an estranged loved one... and it all feels so big and weighty and monumental and insurmountable... and maybe you just need a big sister like I did.

Someone to look you in the eyes and say, "Forget about the ending. And the beginning for that matter. Don't get lost in the how or the what-if's or the messy middle. Just start. Somewhere. Anywhere! Take one toe and dangle it over the ledge...and inch by inchy inch...get yourself over the ledge into this new thing that won't go away and keeps inviting you to dance."

Just start.


For more insight into my writing life and a little more big sister advice, please join me for Ask An Author anything. Tonight, Monday May 18th, 8p.m. eastern.