Today was the day.

My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living. Anais Nin

Today was the day. Today I wrote the opening paragraphs. I’d thought to spend days (weeks, really) drafting an outline, creating character sketches, compiling resources, delving into research. I knew, unlike the short stories I’ve written, I couldn’t pants a novel. Especially not historical fiction.

All those things await me. I know they must be done. I’ll work better within the comfort of structure, with direction and goals. I’m a Virgo after all: I emerged from the womb with an outline clenched in my wee fist. Of course, the ink was smeared so I have no idea what that outline contained. Hopefully I haven’t skipped over anything important. Sucks about the piano lessons. That was out of my control, anyway.

But damn if Virgos aren’t always working from a plan.

And that’s always been part of my problem. I worry too much about the how of the thing, instead of getting on with the doing of it.

So on this warm and glowing July day I sat myself – laptop in the spot for which it is named – at the base of a tree on a hill overlooking Elliott Bay. In fact, here’s the view, recorded and presented for the sake of posterity:

And I wrote. I wrote what I thought might be the beginning. I wanted to introduce myself to one of my principal characters, the woman who is going to carry the main thread of the story. I got her started, but then another central character started tapping a toe, suggesting his storyline would be the better one with which to begin. So he got a few paragraphs. Then I realized the real beginning was several miles away and months earlier. The page breaks accumulated as the first chapters shook out. Word count? Not so much. Racing brain? I pounded out the miles. Full throttle joy.

And there they are. My characters. Alive. Centuries apart from each other and an ocean away from me, but they are breathing. And heaven help me, I’m terrified. None of us has any idea what we’re in for.

I’d been tossing around three ideas for a novel for some time. I’d put off examining any of them seriously until a) I’d finished my wine certification program. Well, that ended in May. I still have no idea if I passed. But I’ve mostly stopped analyzing to bits every glass of wine I meet. And b) I’d finished my writing program. I mailed my final story June 21 and hit the road the same day to attend the delightful Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham, WA.

Then life turned to custard. I’m working on that proverbial reclamation of mojo. Mourning is an ebb and flow of anger, grief, peace and acceptance; sometimes you are drowning, other times you are stranded. What you hope for is to prolong the times when you are just riding the waves.

But at that conference I had the first inkling I could shape at least one of these ideas into something resembling a story. The ideas battled for attention, each presenting a sound argument why theirs was the one I should pursue: one wouldn’t require research, one would be the most commercially viable, one would be legit literary.

So I asked myself, “WWSKD?” And my self replied, “Stephen King would tell you the same thing he told everyone in his most excellent On Writing. ‘Write what you love to read.’ So, if I follow that astute piece of advice, the choice comes down to Jamie Oliver cookbooks, which are already written by Jamie Oliver, and the story which now has its own folder on my hard drive. It even has a title.

I started a story novel today. Check in with me in ten years. I’ll let you know how it’s going.

20 thoughts on “Today was the day.

  1. Wow! This is wonderful news, a beginning – and the beginning is the beginning no matter where it ends up, and already you are seeing how organic the process is, great to have the plan but even better to see it being abandoned and you alowing it to meander and flow and let the voices be heard. Stephen King would say keep going, just write, stop thinking and write, write, write.

    I do hope you have forgiven yourself for those last two sentences. Even in jest, its something we have to try not to do, scare the subconscious back into hiding in that place it’s been comfortably hidden for all these years (but working away mind) and now you want to bring it out and subject it to that almighty powerful, virgoish intellect, so I say don’t check back in 10 years, check back next week because given a chance and given a little belief, that subconscious will take you on a ride your intellect can only dream of. 🙂 Jest not! Treat it kindly, even the abandoned paragraphs are necessary at the time. Bravo Julie, I’m checking back and cheering for that little voice trying to get out.

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    1. Isn’t that the way it works- we are always looking for an out, a way to explain our failure to reach the end before we’ve even started down the path? I’m so guilty of this. Thank you for bringing me back, for reminding me it is the journey that matters – the journey that is one word at a time.

      I’m so blessed to have a partner who is pushing me to throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor and follow my dreams. The wheels turn as I mull the possibilities (a semester studying Occitan at Université Paul-Valéry?!) while staying focused on the goal of writing. Every. Single. Day.

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  2. You followed me, so I followed you back. 🙂

    Ten years, pffft – two maybe? 500 words a day = a novel in about 7 months. You can do it – you really can! And we’ll be here to cheer you along, read your excerpts and give you a gentle smack if you look like you’re doubting your ability. No writer, published or otherwise, need suffer alone if they have an internet connection.

    Good luck

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    1. Bless you for the Atta Girls, Elin!

      I’m astounded, inspired and motivated by the supportive writing community I continue to discover the deeper I plunge into the writing life. The perspectives offered, the lessons learned and shared are invaluable. I’m so grateful for each and every voice. Thank you!

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  3. Julie, I’m so excited for you at the beginning of this journey. When you’ve published that novel and are widely acclaimed, I’ll be able to say I knew you when. With so many ideas, so much enthusiasm, and boatloads of talent, I can’t imagine it will take you 10 years. I hope you’ll still have time for your blog and book reviews along the way, though – I do enjoy reading them.

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    1. This makes my heart so happy, Suzanne- thank you.

      I’m at the end of a 5-day staycation. Real world begins anew in the morning. My heart clenches at the thought of giving up these days of writing at my pleasure and leisure; my goal is to find the time and energy each day to keep this dream alive and moving forward. “A” is for ambition, “B” is for balance, “C” is for commitment. That’s as far as I’ve gotten…

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  4. Julie, I am so excited for you! As I read your words I could feel my own heart pounding in anticipation and wonder….what will happen next?
    The grief, the anger, the heartache…the pain will come and go, sometimes in trickles, others in cascading waves. For months after, I read Greek tragedy and listened to opera, a little over-dramatic perhaps, but they alone were the only sources of comfort for me at that time. They seemed to speak with words which I could understand, deeply, fully, terribly. Their music resonated with my soul. They still do. Some things just change us forever.

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