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This blog was featured on 10/14/2017
[Making the Leap] Well Begun is Half Done
Contributor
Written by
Julie Luek
October 2017
Contributor
Written by
Julie Luek
October 2017

There is a scene from the movie Mary Poppins that has been on my mind lately. Michael and Jane, Mary Poppins’ two young charges, are with Mary up in their nursery, which is a chaotic mess. The children are still suspicious of their new nanny. After all, the previous candidates had been a dismal failure. Getting right to business, Mary Poppins turns to the children and says, “Our first game is called Well Begun is Half Done.”

Michael, always the more cynical of the two says, “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Otherwise titled, Let’s Tidy Up The Nursery.” Mary Poppins continues, not missing a beat.

Michael turns to Jane, “I told you she was tricky.”

I have been focusing my writing on shorter essays and submissions this past year. I am trying to build up writing experience and practice, give myself time to find my writing style, and honestly buying myself time while still staying productive. It’s been successful too. I've written and submitted to various anthologies and even had one accepted for the Chicken Soup series. Yes, all nicely done.

But, like many of you are doing, have done, and will do again, I want to write a book. I want this book to be nonfiction and up until now I had no idea what I wanted this book to be about. I’ve felt a bit like a hunter practicing archery with an empty quiver and without a target: great ambition, but completely aimless.

Several weeks ago while writing in my journal, meditating, and reading, an inkling of an idea tickled my heart. I expanded the thoughts in my journal and even pulled out index cards and began to flesh out chapter ideas. Then I put the idea on the back burner to simmer while I did a little reading—writing books and similar genre books to give me a recipe on how to proceed. But the more I let the idea sit, the more I convinced myself I had, yet again, landed upon an idea that wasn’t good enough. It’s been done. I can’t make it work into a book length. I don’t know what I’m doing.  Blah, blah blah. This is a well-rehearsed and familiar mantra of insecurity and is where I usually dump the idea and remind myself not to get too big for my writing britches.

But, I didn't do that this time. As it happens, I’m of the dubious age where I don’t always sleep well. I wake up and my mind starts churning and burning over things I have completely no control over, can’t possibly rectify at that time of night, and most likely won’t be a big deal in the morning. But right then and there, at 3 a.m., it’s all I can think about. Anyway, there I was perseverating over this book idea when Mary Poppins, carpet bag and all, popped in my head, “Well begun is half done, dear.” (Aw, she called me dear.)

“What?” I had no idea what she meant and why she was talking to me.

“In other words, start writing the damn thing and find out if it will work.” Oooo, Mary Poppins said the "D" word!

I tried to remind her that her logic was faulty. Beginning wasn’t anywhere near being half done. But she had made her point and disappeared. Oh, Michael was right. She is tricky!

I think what Mary was trying to tell me (she doesn’t like first-name informality, but she did call me dear--I think she kicked opened that door), was that I have started the idea, to the point of outlining chapter ideas, developing a theme and even a pitch. What’s stopping me from test-driving a chapter or two? They are allowed to be really bad and I can dump the idea if it doesn’t develop as well on paper as it is in my head. What am I afraid of?

Wait. Fear? Isn't my theme this year Fear Not?

M.P. is right. It's time to take another leap and move past the fear. Time to put the fingers to the keyboard and write.

 

Do you ever talk yourself out of test-driving an idea? What steps do you take to get your idea going? And maybe most importantly, do you ever have a movie character come to you in the middle of the night offering unsolicited advice?

(Please tell me yes.)

 

* This post was originally published in January 2014.

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Comments
  • Alissa Johnson Writing

    I love this! I've been practicing a lot of exploratory writing this year on a fiction novel and it can be hard to remember that that is progress too, even if it's not always a clear scene or chapter I'm working on, but rather trying to just figure something out!

  • Julie Luek

    Sherry, sounds like we are in the exact same phase with our writing. Let me know if you need an accountability buddy. Just call me Mary.

  • Julie Luek

    Elizabeth, that's so helpful for me to read. I feel like I'm just shoving words out right now. I know the defining and refining is yet to come...and come...and come...

  • Julie Luek

    Pamela, oh my goodness that's how I feel!

    Kathryn, I think that motivates me too. I don't want to look back with "what ifs".

    Kristy, sounds like you can totally relate. I'll send you Mary. ;)

  • Sherrey Meyer

    Yes, Julie, oh yes, I do talk myself out of so many possibilities of the writing kind. Like you, I've been writing short pieces while I attempt figure out where my memoir is going or is it going at all. Right now, I'm procrastinating working on it while once again reading what others say in blog posts, on Facebook and in worthy published books on the topic of memoir writing. Why? Because I'm afraid I might really get it done, and then I have another project to consider -- publishing it. And yes, I'm a bit afraid of the success it might have and then there's another thing to face called marketing. But I've declared 2014 my Year of the Memoir, meaning I want to finish my first draft and run it through 2-3 editing sets of hands. And then 2015 just might be my Year of Publication. At least by saying it out loud and writing it in various places, these declarations hold me somewhat accountable to not procrastinating too much longer!

  • Elizabeth Enslin

    MP is right. You have nothing to lose by trying your ideas out. Even if they "fail" you'll learn something and no doubt have bits of writing you can use when you move your story in a different direction.

    I have so many loopy ideas, I can't possibly follow them all at once. So I at least note down the ideas, file them away and make myself test drive one (or sometimes two or three). The only step I take is to sit down and write. The test-driving always leads somewhere but not always where I think it will. So, I have to remind myself not to get too attached to any particular direction. For fifteen years, I rearranged my memoir so many different ways, I feel dizzy thinking about it now. But I had to work through all that to figure out what worked for me and a publisher.

  • Kristy Robinson Horine

    LOVE this! Yes, I talk myself out of test driving ideas because ... well, for many reasons. Perhaps one day it will be lack of energy. Perhaps another day, the children will need me more than the idea needs me. Perhaps another day I will be overwhelmed by 'less-than' (you know, feelings of inadequacy). What steps? Maybe I need to decide I am hungry enough. That could help. Maybe coming to the point of no return, making the decision, and then living with it (our lives are story arcs after all). And, dear, no movie characters have come lately ... but I am holding out hope!

  • Yehudit Reishtein

    Kathryn,

    I agree entirely. It is often said that the things people regret the most at the end of their lives is what they haven't done. If we keep writing, at least we won't have to regret dying with our words unsaid.

  • Kathryn Meyer Griffith

    Pamela,

    That's the risk every artist takes...it's the risk we all take. Every day. Our whole lives. It's called faith.

    I've always said if I never make it, become famous or rich, or even widely read, at least at the end of my life I can say...I tried.

  • Pamela Olson

    I'm working on a novel that, at first blush, sounds pretty crazy. And it's easy to get discouraged. What if I work for hours and hours and hours, and it all comes to nothing?

    But, of course, there's only one way to find out...

  • Kathryn Meyer Griffith

    Thanks Meg. I don't know why Dinosaur Lake is doing so well...it must be the great cover from Dawne Dominique and the subject: dinosaurs.

    I've been writing so long, but at times I still feel as if I don't know anything. But I do know this: Keep writing everyone!

  • Meg E Dobson

    Olga and Jeanne, I will visit both. Thank you for posting. There is a twitter hash tag #amwriting. It's a cool speedy way to check in w/other writers when you feel isolated. Also keeps me from being distracted w/longer posts.

    LOL Alexandria!

    Kathryn, I've been watching buzz on Dinosaur Lake! Keeping fingers crossed for you. And, yes, now I'll pick it up!

  • Julie Luek

    Yehudit-- Oh that's so true, isn't it? Get it out there before someone else does. 

  • Julie Luek

    Olga, thanks for the encouragement and I'll have to check out that post. 

    Alexandra-- I believe in us my writing friend. 

    Kathryn-- I've read something similar before as well. Tracy Kidder has great advice about that in his book, "Good Prose".

  • Julie Luek

    Meg--Great thoughts, and I agree about the chocolate. ;)

    Jeanne-- Love your FB support group idea. Sounds like it's really keeping you all motivated. 

    Susie, Thanks. Yes, she's annoyingly correct. ;)

  • Yehudit Reishtein

    Julie,

    Yes, I have talked myself out of writing about ideas, and then found three years later one of my ideas, in someone else's words, on top of the Best Seller List. And not even as well written as I could have done it! So now, when that thought bubbles up, I grab a mental pin and prick the bubble, telling myself, why should others get the credit for MY ideas? 

  • Kathryn Meyer Griffith

    Julie,

    I once read many, many years ago that everything has been written about before; done before...but it's HOW YOU WRITE IT FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE with your own voice and words that will make it new, fresh...yours.

    And hey, I just started a new book, sequel to my book Dinosaur Lake which is up for a 2014 Epic Award in March, and I have no idea where it's going or how it's going to end. I got the basic idea and just started writing...and as I end each chapter I go to bed and in the morning (most mornings) I have the idea for the new chapter. So...beginning the book is half the battle. The rest just comes if you let it. Start writing and don't stop.

  • Alexandra Caselle

    I think that was Mary Poppins that I have been hearing throughout 2014, trying to kick in my door and give me a kick in the seat of the pants.  I have a couple of ideas that I keep talking myself out of as well.  The book is inside of me: I am the only one who is keeping it imprisoned.  I really liked your hunting analogy.  Fear not, faith only (in yourself).  Test drive those chapters like Danica Patrick.  (motivating myself here, too).  Great blog!

  • Olga Godim

    Go, Julie, go! Just to support your motto of 'Fear Not' (kidding), Ceci Giltenan dedicated her blog this month to the theme of courage. Reading various posts there was inspirational. I blogged there too - about many faces of courage: http://cecigiltenan.com/2014/02/06/courage-has-many-faces-author-olga-godim/

    Must be something in the air. :) But seriously, Julie. You're a wonderful writer. Go for it. Write the book. I would definitely read it.

  • Susie Klein

    Miss Mary is a genius, we all know that. So to dismiss her advice would be a dangerous path to choose, my dear. (Yes, I can call you "dear" also.) I love this post so much! Susie

  • Jeanne Nicholas

    Although I have never had a movie character leap into my head and give advice...I have had dreams of movie actors/actresses performing my storyline as if I were writing a move that Steven Spielberg may produce later in my writing career.  I take that as an good omen. 

    I almost always write down any story ideas that pop into my head and append this gargantuan notepad list that I have on my flash drive.  Maybe initially the idea sucks but when I start taking a note about it, I can flesh it out and outline a few things.  Then, when I feel like I need a change of story to write about...or my mojo on the current story I'm writing isn't exactly dancing its mojo dance, I check my ginormous flash drive listing and grab something that catches my creativity.  I'm always writing and currently have about four stories in progress.  The good thing is I'm always writing.  The somewhat minor detail bad thing is that sometimes it takes me years to finish a story.  But once in a great while I say enough is enough and focus on one storyline to finish it off.  I have never really trashed a story that I've taken time to really flesh out and expand.  But I don't always publish or post stories either if I feel they are not worthy (picture me holding my hands over my computer and bowing repeatedly).

    I recently started a new Facebook group called Writing 1000 Words Daily.  The idea is to post your word count and really pump out some continuous writing, like a nanowrimo scenario but on a micro level.  The group started Feb 1st and is rolling along.  In Jan I tested the idea and ended up writing 20K myself.  It was an extraordinary output and great support from the other 15 people that were doing the same.  And the accomplishment feels great whether its "good story" or not.  I agree with Meg, on the enough to be vested for a year.

  • Meg E Dobson

    Ken Follett said at Y street Station... an idea needs 50 beats. (Or you think it can have 50 beats.)

    Tim Powers says he researches until he finds at least 20 too cool things not to use.

    In my experience, it takes either above but you then have to chart characters and plot arch asking if they and it intrigues you enough to be vested for a year. I try mini-character short stories, perhaps not in plot to test the waters. If still not sure, put you notes and then in a drawer. If they scream to get out, then it's time.

    Above assumes you aren't at that addictive midpoint where you are depressed and want to detox the whole thing. That's a whole different discussion about plowing-through-to-the-end type question.

    Good luck and remember that a spoon full of sugar helps too, but honestly chocolate is much better!

    Meg E Dobson
    YA contemporary crime fiction and sequel due out from small press in 2015! Still squealing. Actual advance. Tiny but cashable.