Lately I can’t stop thinking about starting.
The seasons are changing (even if it is still sweltering in Los Angeles). The kids are headed back to school (my dog and I wave to them as they walk by our house). And I believe (or at least deeply hope) that we’re finding safe ways to re-open the world.
I have a long and complicated history with beginnings, especially of the artistic variety. And it doesn’t help that I picked a career that depends on having a clear beginning.
I love the moment of inspiration. It’s almost romantic, relishing in daydreams of the finish line. I buy outfits in my head for the parties I’ll attend to celebrate my numerous awards (it’s always a Peabody).
Just typing the word now induced a top-of-the-rollercoaster clench.
Ugh, that blank page! Oy, that first share with a friend! My god, the thought of the time it will take to finish!
A website during college. A blog right after. A collection of one-act plays that became a full-length play that launched a new career as a television and film writer. A live storytelling show despite never having told a live story.
According to the files on my computer, I have abandoned (Ended? Let go of? Released?) at least ten times as many things as I’ve brought all the way into the world.
But I realized recently—as I considered yet another commencement—that every single file has this magical quality in common: It didn’t exist until one day, thanks to my little old brain and me, it did.
That is a kind of life-altering alchemy I wish everyone in this world could experience.
I’m sorry, but I don’t know where you’ll find yours. Mine come from places like the shower, my dreams, a book, some conversation, spirits assigned to me by the great Goddess above, and/or Instagram.
What’s important is that it consumes your entire soul. Dramatic, yes, but mission critical.
You should feel excitement for this idea in your veins—no, your capillaries. You should be so focused on and delighted by it that you forget there’s a new Ted Lasso to watch and/or that your husband has been asking you if you want to watch it for the past five minutes while you stare blankly at his face and write scenes for this new idea in your head.
I know I’m excited enough when I can no longer nap.
But not just anyone. And certainly not everyone.
Here’s where things get even trickier: You want to pick a person that will celebrate you, not your idea. This is confusing because logic says the idea is the thing you’re looking for excitement around but logic is wrong (a lot, FYI). At this juncture, you are the thing.
Tell someone that will encourage you to keep going without any judgment, too many questions, or this line: Oh, that sounds like this movie I just watched on Netflix. If they say that line you should never tell them anything again.
Yes, per step one you’ve already been thinking about your idea to a way-behind-on-Ted-Lasso degree. Now you’re going to schedule time to do that as if it is a pedicure or massage. I recommend one hour units of time, but fifteen minutes is often enough and you’ll probably spend four hours on occasion. But you need to schedule the time so you can begin to wrap your head around what it is and how it comes together.
Think on your back with your eyes closed in a field of freshly cut grass. Think in your bed so your thoughts will turn into dreams. Think out loud while you rollerblade along a boardwalk. Think while you’re driving, but only if you know where you’re going and/or don’t have to be there on time.
How many think sessions should you schedule? As many as it takes until you can no longer keep track of all your thoughts. Then it’s time for—
Turn your giant pile of thoughts into pages of scribbled lines in the new notebook you bought just for your new idea. Once again, say-out-loud everything you can remember saying into the voice memo recorder on your phone. Take the sounds you heard in your head and tinker with them on the actual piano.
Don’t panic. You’re certainly not starting. You’re just playing around.
But eventually all that fun time with your new idea will turn down the volume on your fears and raise the volume on your confidence/excitement/chutzpah! until you simply cannot help but—
In 75 percent of artistic endeavors, this will involve sitting down, so sit down. ((I see you painters, dancers and harpists! You may stay standing.)
Then, take something that you created when you were just playing around and make it just a tiny bit more formal. Like blazer-with-jeans formal.
Turn those scribbles of dialogue into a single Final Draft scene. Take your tiny clay model and use it to figure out exactly how much clay you’ll need to buy for the real piece. Transcribe all every single voice memo into some kind of document (or download some software that’ll do it for you). Record two stanzas of your brand-new song.
But—and this too is mission critical—avoid the urge to be the hare.
Remember, slow and steady wins the race (logic = bogus yet again).
You are the delicate, wise tortoise.
You will now gingerly repeat step five until—
Because this is too f*cking hard.
Why did you ever think this dumb idea was worth pursuing in the first place, ya ding-dong?
If—huge if—you ever finish, it will almost definitely be bad.
So you’ll probably have to re-do the entire thing, just like the last time. And the time before that.
In fact, here’s an actually good idea: Why don’t you stop working and take a gander at just how many of your dumb plans have become absolutely nothing over the course of your silly little artistic career.
Go ahead. Open/look at/listen to/watch one. Any one.
I cannot guarantee this will happen to you. I’ve never been able to guarantee it will happen for me.
And yet—so far—it always does.
I go back, full of rage and fury and self-hatred, sure I’ll expose myself as the fake I’ve been all along. I open the script that was supposed to be the one. I start to read it, certain that by the end I’ll finally be ready to turn my back on this life of a thousand beginnings that never got their rightful end.
Then I have a, “There you are, Peter.”
You know, the moment from Hook where the little Lost Boy finds the spirit of the real Peter Pan in a single spot on Robin William’s face.
I find something I really, truly love inside the work I’ve created over all the years I was brave enough to start. Sometimes it’s as simple as a single line of dialogue. Last time it was a very old blog post. But I see whatever it is with fresh eyes and think, holy shit. Some person took a whisper of inspiration and pushed through all the doubt that live inside us to get it onto this page because it brought her so. much. joy. And that person is me.
And I really love being that person.
Maybe that person is you, too?
Because, yes, some day your latest capillary-tingling idea may be the one that breaks through to the silver screen or best seller list or MoMA wall.
But more importantly, I believe that if you cease to start starting, you’ll cease to be being.
And I believe that will be more painful than opening the hundredth draft of the thousandth version of the millionth idea.
So good luck, to you. And to me, too.
Though for now I am very pleased to type the most beautiful words I can think of:
[ 6a. Re-watch Hook. Because so help me God if you haven’t seen it…. ]