Last night, on Twitter, I said this: “Starting a new thing = leaping off a cliff. You hope you fall like Jackie Chan, not Hans Gruber, but you still need to jump.” When I typed that into my phone, I was taking a momentary break from work on a big new story. It’s a work-for-hire thing, one of the higher-profile projects I’ve had so far. I hope you guys get to hear about it soon, but for now only four people know much about what’s happening.
My job right now is to break the story. In other words, I’m figuring out the main thrust of events, and the beat-by-beat layout of the thing. Themes, main characters and overarching ideas have already been mostly nailed down, so now it’s about finding how A gets to Z.
As I’ve mentioned before, most of my early-stage hacking out happens in longhand, in moleskine notebooks, and this one’s no exception. So, last night, I was sitting at a bar, with the book open to a blank page, ready to start jotting down ideas. I was mildly nervous, because as I said, this is a high-profile thing, with the potential to get me a lot of very welcome exposure. I had a beginning and an ending, but only the vaguest idea of what would come between them. But there’s nothing for it – either you start writing stuff down or you don’t. If you don’t, then you might as well give up. If you do, even if it’s bad, at least you have something to revise.
I put pen to page, and ideas began to spark, bouncing one off the other until I entered a state I think of as “ideaphoria.” I’m not claiming to have invented the term, but I think it’s a very apt way to describe the way it feels when ideas just seem to sprout one from the other, spinning out in unexpected directions. There’s a well-worn trope in writing that suggests that stories and characters can take on lives of their own, but it’s well-worn for a reason. It couldn’t be more true. The story finds you, a lot of the time, and fighting against it doesn’t do you OR the story any good. (I think that’s why some people find it really hard to work on corporate characters – directives from on high make it hard to find their own story – but that’s another discussion for another day.)
Anyway, in this particular circumstance, it felt something like I had jumped off a cliff, one with tree branches, ledges and other protrusions sticking out of its face. And as I fell, I was bouncing off all that stuff, resting here, changing direction there, but all the time with only a limited amount of control over where I was going. I was always headed down, but how I got there seemed to involve a lot of flipping around. It definitely felt pretty Jackie Chan, though. Not too Hans Gruber.
Okay, this is getting metaphorically unwieldy, but my point is that you’ve got to start. If you don’t start, you’ll never finish. See you next time – hopefully I can actually talk about some of this stuff soon. I have four big things going on that haven’t been announced, which is rough! I want to show you guys some of these things!