Sunday, November 29, 2009


I’ve been writing professionally now for more than thirty years and you would think (well, I would) that, after all this time, the business of writing would get easier; that I’d be able to walk into my office every morning, sit down at the computer and just start working.

You’d think that—but it’s not true.

Even after three decades, every time I begin a new project it’s as if I’ve never written before.  As if I have no idea how to put two words together, let alone craft a plot, weave a theme, build a character.  I stare at the blank computer screen, then retreat to the kitchen for a snack.  I stare at the screen some more, then decide to clear off my desk.  I go for a walk, then come back and surf on over to Google to see what people are saying about me (sometimes a pleasant experience and sometimes a truly depressing one).

Eventually something shifts and I start slapping ideas down on the page.  Eventually, those ideas become a story.  And then the story—as has been discussed before on this blog—begins to take on its own life, begins telling itself, and, yes, miraculously, it often does become easy.

But starting?  It’s a nightmare.  The Terrible Business of Beginning can take hours, sometimes days, and, on rare occasions, it can take weeks of feeling like a half-insane trapped animal.  I keep looking for ways to bypass this particularly unpleasant experience, but, after years of angst and torment, I’m convinced that my seeming avoidance is a pivotal part of the creative process.  That those hours, days, weeks when my conscious mind thinks that it’s blocked, my unconscious is working away feverishly, prying open the door between the apparently real and the apparently imaginary:  tuning the psychic radio to precisely the right station so that the signals from the Land of Story will beam in loud and clear.

So I’ve learned, grudgingly (very grudgingly), to honor the process.  Doesn’t mean I like it; but I’ve at least reached the point in my life where I can recognize that those moments when I’m convinced that I’ve spent thirty years fooling my audience (and myself along with them) and that I’ll never be able to write again, are actually moments of genuine grace.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis


  1. Much the same with the work day of us Regular Joes, JM. The hardest part of the day for me is the starting of it. Waking up isn't too bad, but that moment a while later where I realize I have to actually GET OUT of bed, there's the hard part. Why would I want to ruin something as perfect as this? Especially now with my iPhone, where I can access the internet and e-mail without geting out of bed. Why would I want to ruin these moments of peace and tranquility by doing something as stupid as getting out of bed to begin the process of getting ready to go!? Why?

    And then, that ever-present sense of responsibility (mutter, mutter, stupid parents...) takes over, and I do it. I begin my day. As you say, the rest is easy. It may not be the creative process, but I can understand, and your fans appreciate the fact that you've climbed over those blank-page walls and built many a great story by doing the hardest part of each one; starting.

  2. Ken Fries—if you're out there, the comment you posted was eaten by internet goblins! Any chance you can re-post so I can get it up here? JMD

  3. JM, it only says 1 comment, but it shows up on my screen when I click on comments. Is it there or not? Another of life's mysteries...

    I can re-post if you want, but I don't want to take up too much space, tell me if you can see it now!

  4. I'm glad I'm not the only one. Every time I sit down to write I feel like I've regressed somehow.

    But oh how I love a finished project!

  5. I find it encouraging to know that beginnings are difficult for you, too.

    Something to think about as I'm struggling to put characters on the page and wondering if I'm cut out for this sort of thing!


  6. Okay, now this is weird: yesterday your original comment wasn't there and now it is! It's goblins, I tell you! Goblins!

    At any rate, Ken, I know what you mean about not wanting to get out of bed. I don't think it's about wanting to sleep our lives away, either. I think it's about wanting to be masters of our own fate; not jumping up because someone else says we have to.

    The days that are best for me as a writer are the ones where I'm so deep into a story, so in love with it, that I CAN'T stay in bed. I have to get up and get back to work. That's truly magical. (Although snoozing the day away is pretty wonderful, too!)

  7. Well, it's normal for me, Suzette. I'm sure there are some writers out there who can get up every single day and get right to work without missing a beat. But that's not me. And I guess it's not you, either!

  8. That, Nicholas, reminds me of the Dorothy Parker quote where she says -- and this may not be exact -- "I hate writing but love having written." Of course the writing process can be magical, wonderful, but, even when it's not, the most magical feeling of all is being finished and looking over a job well done, a story that's truly come alive on the page. You can't beat that.

  9. You're cut out for it as long as you keep doing it, David! I think the difference between success and failure very often has less to do with talent than with unyielding persistence and a willingness to learn. And if you've got talent AND persistence... I think you're going to break through, no matter what.

  10. Nicholas, the fact that you find this blog inspiring to me. No kidding!

  11. I'm amazed that anything ever gets written, by anybody, period.

    I tried to sit down and write a 12-page comic book-style script, and it took me ALL SUMMER! I just kept putting it off, and even when I did start writing, after just 1-2 pages my mind would wander, I'd check email, was grueling.

    So, as much as I liked your stuff before, JMD, I have a greater appreciation for it now!

  12. Much as I love the internet and all it's done for us, I think it's one of the biggest distractions ever created. Sometimes you've just got to shut the damn thing down and concentrate on the work at hand. (That advice is as much for me, Rob, as it it for you!)