Part V: How Steven Got His Groove Back
Part IV: Imperfect Symmetry
Part III: Pretending to Sleep
Part II: Back to the Drawing Board
Part I: An Open Can of White Paint
How do I start?
Where do I start?
These are questionst that I’m constantly asking myself every time I begin a new project. I always tell my students, getting started is the hardest part. Most of the time, my students introductions are weaker than the rest of their well-supported essays; it’s almost as if the introduction is an obligatory blurb, something that was taught in high school as a broad-to-narrow device to introduce your reader, while still remaining somewhat vague so that you’re not giving away the major points. In the town where I grew up, there is a beautiful park right on the Hudson River. It has a circular walkway that surrounds a rather large grassy area. I go there from time to time, to reflect and think and ponder lifes unanswerable questions. But an introdution isn’t supposed to be some directionless walk in the park. It’s supposed to open the reader up to the wonders of your writing.
Strike just the right amount of intrigue and mystery.
Give us everything we need to know at that particular moment; nothing more, nothing less.
“Hook” the reader in, then
set fire to them.
Sounds easy enough.
It’s actually THE HARDEST FUCKING THING EVER.
Don’t get me wrong, an introduction to an academic essay is WAY different than a solid, intriguing start to a novel. But the principals are the kinda similar, which is why it’s so damn hard to write; essentially, it has to be perfect. I tell my students that an great introduction will make your reader WANT to read more and go with you on your journey through words. Don’t we sort of live by that rule when it comes to picking up a new book on bookstore shelves? If I’m not hooked right away, I’ll put it down. I know that literary agents will toss a manuscript aside if they’re not connected within the first five pages so…
I’m someone who needs to start from the beginning. I’ll frequently tell my students to write the bulk of the paper, and then come back to the intro once they know exactly where the essay took them; I cannot follow my own advice. I’ll often sit and stare at a blank computer screen for hours
hating life wondering where and how to begin. I can see the clear vision, but I’m acutely aware of how important the first few pages are, so I’m paralyzed when it comes to beginning.
My instinct, when I began to write this character’s story, was to begin at the end.
The character, which in an earlier incarnation was already in college (which is beyond the boundaries of YA lit), has just graduated from high school. It’s the end of his former life, and (hopefully), the beginning of a journey that will lead to self-discovery.
A party scene.
A graduation party.
When I graduated from high school, my friend Liz threw a giant bash after graduation that my friends and I affectionately refer to as the Can’t Hardly Wait party (you know, the EPIC end-of-high school movie from the late 90s starring Jennifer Love Hewitt and Ethan Embry? If you don’t, you honestly need to see this movie. It’s like a home movie from Liz’s party.)
I wanted that feeling. That feeling of an epic party surrounding this main character who has so much on his mind; he isn’t feeling a celebration. He’s more focused on what’s about to happen.
But the thing is, he doesn’t know what’s about to happen.
All he knows is that he has to say goodbye to his best friend in the world, who is leaving in the morning. All he knows is that he wants to spend the summer with his few remaining friends. And all he knows completely changes when he meets a stranger at the party who takes his breath away.
It was about love and loss and figuring out how to nagivate the murky waters of a post-high school graduation summer. It was about that uncertain time between high school and college, where the only certainty is friendship, and the biggest uncertainty is how that friendship can possibly last once everyone goes their separate ways.
A shell, an idea, a whisper, if you will, of the ideas I wanted it to encompass.
During the fall of 2010, I began furiously writing various incarnations of what is now a really solid beginning. But it took a long time to get it right. I crossed passages out, ripped out lines, completely deleted and started fresh. I changed direction multiple times. I added new details. I took out details that didn’t matter. I wrote and wrote and wrote and when I couldn’t write anymore, I changed the whole damn thing and rewrote.
Hell, about a month ago was when I finally figured it out. Almost three years later!!
But I had struck a match.
I had lit a fire.
It was small, but a few sparks were all that was needed.
I was finally off to the races…