In the Beginning

Every time I begin a new piece, I forget how to write.

To remember the process, I read work I’ve put away or published to find my way back into a world of words, sentences, paragraphs, stories.

It’s never easy because experience is useless in front of a blank page.

Repetition has made me a faster typist, a better speller, more alert to punctuation errors and weak verbs.

I enjoy editing.

Not so with the first draft of writing.

It’s agony.

I’m miserable in the beginning and downright joyous for an hour or so at the end.

Until fear calls to tell me I’m washed up.

Emptied out.

Done.

And then I start over.

With a word.

About Darrelyn Saloom

Darrelyn Saloom co-wrote My Call to the Ring: A Memoir of a Girl who Yearns to Box (Glasnevin, 2012) with world champion boxer, Deirdre Gogarty, but her pugilistic passions are confined to a keyboard. Darrelyn lives with her husband and various critters on a horse farm in south Louisiana, where she is working on a collection of personal essays and stories. To learn more, visit her website at http://darrelynsaloom.com or follow her on Twitter: @DarrelynSaloom
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28 Responses to In the Beginning

  1. Me too. I’m desperate to finish a book. The moment I do, I feel I’ve pitched into a chasm. Where is my purpose? What will I write? And how on earth did I do it before?

  2. jpon says:

    I’m quite the opposite. I love the challenge of a new idea, and it’s that newness that keeps me intrigued, and keeps me writing until I get a decent resolution for the story. I usually have a long list of ideas waiting for me to finish the one I’m working on. Editing works best for me if I have let the story sit for a few months so that it at least appears fresh to my mind.

    • I’m glad to hear from someone whose writing process (in the beginning) is opposite from mine, Joe. It intrigues me to learn how different (or similar) we are when it comes to facing the blank page.

  3. shirleyhs says:

    Word by word, Darrelyn.

  4. You nailed my experience, Darrelyn. The blankness of the page! I’m told this beginning starting-over issue pertains to all the arts, though. I do think we get better at writing, but our standards go up.

  5. bosco2579 says:

    This piece is wonderful! And so true!

  6. syd webre says:

    Sounds like “giving birth” . Agony and the ecstasy when it’s completed!

  7. jopfic says:

    So true. It all starts with a word.

    I feel the same. The blank page frightens me. The red pen excites me.

  8. Once I write the first word on a page (even if it’s not great) it’s a relief. Love: “The blank page frightens me. The red pen excites me.” 🙂

  9. S. J. Crown says:

    Similar problem. Sometimes it helps to pull down one of my favorite books and try to write something similar to a passage in it. For example, my flash story “Splintered Maple” (If you want, you can find it on the Showcase page at sjcrown.com) started when I tried to write something like the first paragraph of Ch 1 (not the prologue) in Sara Gruen’s WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. This technique often gets me off and running, although my words may end up nothing like the passage I’m using for inspiration.

  10. baweibel says:

    So interesting. Not at all what I experience, although I also struggle. I find it impossible to put the first word of a story down on the page until I know what I want my reader to understand, and to figure that out I usually have to tap into the emotion of the story. Once I can feel it in my gut, I can usually write it. If I don’t go through that process, they are just words on a page.

  11. I agree with tapping into the emotion of a story, Barbara. It’s all part of the agony I experience in the beginning. Btw, we need to catch up. I’d love to hear about your trip to New Orleans.

  12. D says:

    I enjoyed the piece, Darrelyn. But admittedly, I’m in Jpon’s camp. Something about the newness of the idea…something exciting, refreshing about it to me, too. : ) It’s the editing parts I struggle to do–but usually after round 4 or 5 of edits, I’m finally okay with it. Ecstasy first, agony later. 😛

  13. Perhaps that’s why we work so well together, Dave. So far, Agony seems to be beating Ecstasy in the beginning. 🙂

  14. Carolyn says:

    Good piece. It reminds me why I don’t write, but enjoy other’s writings.

    • Carolyn, It was spending time with you last Monday that spurred me to write this piece. Thanks for sitting beside me on such a sad day. Sure do miss sharing a new post with our dear, mutual friend.

  15. cydmadsen says:

    “Emptied out,” sums it up for me. My only defense is having several projects going at once, words scattered everywhere I can pick up and observe as if they aren’t mind. The only problem is they seem more like litter tossed away as useless, and after the paper’s smoothed out, another word is needed to get it going. I’m positive the needed word doesn’t belong to me and have to prove myself over and over again.

    This was so nicely expressed. Glad you shared.

    • Great to hear from you, Cyd. This sounds so familiar to me: “I’m positive the needed word doesn’t belong to me and have to prove myself over and over again.” But I think that’s a good thing because it drives us back to the blank page. In fact, I’m returning to one of my “several projects” to begin anew. With a word. And then Malone will probably suggest I revise it. 🙂

  16. cynthia says:

    Darrelyn, I loved reading this and discovering that you’re starting something new–yay! Every time I begin a new piece, I have to learn a new trick. I started a new novel in January (another reason I’ve been somewhat scarce lately–I have to disappear in the new world to get going), thinking ok, I’ll just buzz through this now that I’ve done it so many times…but no. With each one, I’ve had to figure something different out. But I’m starting to like that : )

    • Thanks, Cynthia. I had a strong sense you were off somewhere writing. Thrilled to learn it’s a new novel you’re working on. And you’re right. I need to figure out a new trick every time. And I need to learn how to disappear. 🙂

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