“Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.” – Ray Bradbury
That’s a bit what it feels like to start a new novel – which is what I’ve been working toward for several weeks now. I haven’t actually started typing out the rough draft yet, but I’ve been looking over the edge of that cliff and gathering what I’ll need to build my wings. I’m jotting notes on my new story, gathering my ideas on sticky notes, torn-out notebook pages, and whatever is handy. I’m asking and answering questions like: “What does the protagonist want most? Need most? Why can’t she get it? What are the stakes, i.e. what happens – or doesn’t – if she doesn’t get what she wants/needs?” And on and on. Those notes are my feathers and balsa and glue, the material I’ll build my wings with, once I make the leap into the rough draft.
A few years ago I went to the cliffs in La Jolla, just north of San Diego, to the spot where the hang gliders jump off. They arranged their “wings,” strapped themselves in, took a running leap, and soared up and out over the beach on the air currents. It must take a lot of trust and courage to jump off the cliff the first time. Maybe it takes a lot of trust and courage every time. I know it does to leap into the rough draft of a new novel. Every time.
Orson Scott Card, in his introduction to Speaker for the Dead, wrote, “You see, the work of a storyteller doesn’t get any easier the more experience we get, because once we’ve learned how to do something, we can’t get excited about doing exactly the same thing again – or at least most of us can’t. We keep wanting to reach for the story that is too hard for us to tell – and then make ourselves learn how to tell it.”
I’m encouraged to know that even Orson Scott Card finds writing a challenge. So did the prolific author Phyllis A. Whitney. In a 1961 article, “Letter to a Young Writer,” she wrote, “I am faced now with writing a book about Istanbul, and I haven’t the faintest notion of how to go about it. The idea scares me to pieces. The one advantage I have over you is that I have been through this so many times before that I know I can do it.”
So. Yes. Okay. I know I can do it. But I’m not quite at the jumping-off point just yet. I’m in what writer Joy Cowley calls a story’s “gestation period.” She says, “The time to write a story is when you can no longer contain it.” It’s time when the energy in all those scattered thoughts and notes starts to take on a flexible weight and form. Although the wings are not built yet, I’ll stand at the edge of the rough draft cliff, holding the feathers. Then I’ll feel an updraft. And leap!
Happy Reading! Happy Writing!
© 2013 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy morguefile.com