Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Saved at Birth

It always begins this way.

An idea intrudes, insists that I give it attention, finally settles upon me.  It’s exciting — a promise to oneself that makes the hair stand on end.  And, of course, because it resides in the mind, not on the page, there’s a certain perfection to it.

Oh, I know it’s not really perfect.  It’s incomplete, in fact, not fully formed.  But there’s thrust behind the thing.  So even if the blade isn’t sharp, the subject has been engaged.

Then comes a moment when the only way to move the idea forward is to think more deeply, to hone the details.  This represents a profound psychological shift.  It’s the difference between a pitcher knowing he has a start scheduled for next Saturday and undertaking the stretches for that start in an hour hence.  With preparation comes trepidation.

I was there last week with Iniquity, my next novel, staring at the blank page.  I wasn’t planning to start writing, just to start planning.  Why does it scare me so?

Because a thousand decisions lie ahead, that’s why.  Because those decisions are all interdependent, like the components of an ecosystem — get one or two wrong and the ecosystem becomes unbalanced or chokes off its own oxygen supply or spins into useless pieces.  And because, even in success, with each decision a million possibilities die.

It is human nature to become anxious when faced by too many choices.  Studies have been done in supermarkets, particularly in the jam and jelly section, the sweetest part of the store.  We think we want more choices, but we don’t really.  In fact, people given too much choice often flee the store without buying anything at all.

Thus the act of artistic creation requires a great leap of courage, the will to battle through this natural anxiety, to sacrifice possibilities on the altar of the greater idea.

The decisions may be wrong or they may be less than ideal, but one must remind oneself that they are rarely fatal.  Why?  Because they can be changed, revised.

And that’s the thing that allows me to move forward ultimately, I think.  Because inherent in the magic of creation is resuscitation of the very possibilities one may originally have killed off.

Thus every work, until it is truly finished, presents its imperfect author with the opportunity for salvation.