First Things First (Not)

Saturday, October 15, 2022

By Joni B. Cole
(Excerpted from Good Naked: How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier)
You have a Great Idea for a story. You are so infatuated with this Great Idea that you gush to your friends and fellow writers—“I’m going to write a book about [insert your Great Idea here]!” Your Great Idea takes up residence in your psyche. It settles in, as entitled and undisciplined as lesser royalty. Weeks pass, then months, but nothing gets written. Your Great Idea begins to pace the shag carpet of your mind.
“What’s the holdup, hon?” your Great Idea asks. “These shoes are killing me.”
“I just need a little more time,” you tell your Great Idea. “I’m not sure how to get started.”
Life continues, crowding the inside of your head with more experiences, more people, more memories, more distractions: Ticks! When’s the last time I checked myself for ticks? Still, even with so much going on in your world, you keep revisiting your Great Idea in your mind. By now, its shoes are off. Its feet rest on the coffee table of your consciousness, next to a highball sweating on the once burnished cherry tabletop. You think, Why can’t it use a coaster? 
“I thought you loved me,” your Great Idea nags. “I thought you were all, like, I want to spend time with you. You mean so much to me. I want us to have a future together.”
And your Great Idea is right. You did want that. You still want that. You loved your Great Idea then and you love it now, only now it is starting to feel more like a love-hate relationship because you cannot think about your Great Idea without feeling guilty. I’m just too busy to sit down and write, you tell yourself, citing your dependents, the crumbs in your bread drawer, your commitment to world peace. Deep down, however, you know it is not family, or work, or even your ideal of planetary nonviolence that is keeping you away from your desk. This editorial paralysis is all about your fear of making a wrong first move. This is the real reason you cannot commit to your Great Idea.
Where to start? Where to start?
Your neck muscles ratchet into a double helix. You want to cry. You do cry, and then you go to the mirror to see what you look like when you are crying. You are a wreck, and looking old, so much older than when you first thought of writing a story about your Great Idea. And yet, even after all this time, one thing relentlessly remains the same. You do not know where to start, so you cannot get started.
If this scenario sounds at all familiar, you do indeed have a problem. Only it is not the problem you think you have. When launching a novel or memoir—or any creative work for that matter—the issue isn’t that you don’t have a clue where your story should start; the issue is that you think you should have a clue, even before you start writing... 
Good Naked: How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier by Joni B. Cole (University Press of New Mexico, 9.1.22) is available at University of New Mexico Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and
Joni B. Cole is the author of two acclaimed writing guides: Good Naked (included in Poets & Writers list of Best Books for Writers); and Toxic Feedback (“I can’t imagine a better guide to writing’s rewards and perils than this fine book,” American Book Review.) Both guides are being re-released in revised and expanded editions in fall 2022 and spring 2023. Joni founded the Writer's Center of White River Junction, Vermont, and is a popular teacher and speaker at a variety of academic programs, writing conferences, women's organizations, and nonprofits. She is the creator and host of the podcast Author, Can I Ask You? and a contributor to The Writer magazine. Joni is currently completing her second collection of personal essays due for release in fall 2023 from University Press of New Mexico. For more info: Seinfeld fan? That's from one of their episodes (Good Naked/bad naked).


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