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New Project, New Fears, New Resolve

Tayari Jones knows that the first step can be the scariest, and not just for new writers.

Some of you know that I have a new novel, Silver Sparrow, which is coming out in May. Although I finished writing the novel over a year ago, there was still a lot of work making changes with my editor, going over page proofs, etc. But all that has been done for six long months. It’s time for me to get cracking on something new.

Where to start? Well, I have been thinking about a new project. I have even written grant proposals for it and come up with a swell catchy new title. And I have spent lots of time thinking about it. I’ve been talking about it, too. When friends says “So what are you working on now?” I’ve got something to say. But have I been writing it? Not really.

Please indulge me in a little digression:

When I was almost sixteen, I met the man of my dreams. My prince’s name was Kenny; he was about seventeen and he lived far far away in a distant Kingdom known as Jacksonville, Florida. I only was in his company about three hours at Cathy Carpenter’s sweet sixteen party, but what a three hours. To this day, I get a little misty whenever I hear Luther Vandross’s “If Only For One Night.” For weeks--weeks!--I corresponded with Kenny via letters. I confessed, I loved him! He confessed, he kind of loved me too! It was the best relationship I ever had because it lived only in my head and my ridiculous teenaged heart.

I kind of feel the same way about this novel idea that I have been bouncing around in my head. I have talked in girlish whispers about it to my bestie who has squealed appropriately in delight. “It’s brilliant!”

Back to Kenny. I know that in real life he never could have lived up to my fantasy. And in real life I never could have lived up to his.

Back to my book (or my book idea, if you want to split hairs.) My real fear is that the idea isn’t as good as I think it is, or even that I am not a good enough writer to pull it off. So I haven’t really worked on it. I’ve been researching it (honest!). And I have been thinking, thinking, thinking about it. Still, I haven’t really sat down in the chair and gotten moving on the project. (Those half a dozen pages in my journal don’t really count, or let's say they don’t count for much.)

I meet a lot of beginning novelists, who have a million questions for me on how to write a first novel. I almost always give a short and sweet reply, “You just write it.” They sometimes literally throw up their hands and say, “But HOW?” I give them a been-there, done-that smile and say, “You just do it!” Sometimes they then ask about research, about finding an agent, or maybe some crazy questions about point of view. I then say, “Write 100 pages and get back with me. These questions you have are all about fear. Face it.”

The funny thing about writing is that you never become a pro. This novel I am tiptoeing around will be my fourth. You would think that by now, I’d just dive in with a sharpened pencil between my teeth and have at it. But you would only think that if you weren’t a writer. We all have to face the blank page.

My new year’s plan (not a resolution, but a plan) is to get something on paper. To move past the fear and the doubt. Yes, 2011 looks to be the busiest year of my life—tenure, new book out, etc—but I am putting this nameless, plotless, book first in my life. You all know I don’t believe in counting words, but I will count time spent in my chair. Maybe I don’t end up writing the book that seems so smart in my head. It’s possible that it just won’t “work.” And that’s fine. It doesn’t have to work. The only thing that has to work is me.

Now, over to you SheWriters, as 2011 begins, how are you going to further your writing this year?



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  • Jenée Libby

    You have just described my exact state of mind. The book is in my head. All the fear surrounding actually writing it, it won't be good enough, etc. etc. Thank you. Just reading this and knowing someone else is going through it makes me feel better :)

  • Lovenia Leapart

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • Joanne M Lozar Glenn

    Inspiring and honest. To your question, I started an accountability check-in group. We'll be supporting each other, one goal/one week at a time. I got the idea from fabulous intuitive dream coach and writer Paula Scardamalia, who is also a member of she writes.

  • Karen Simpson

    This is so good to know.

  • Tracita Linda

    It's crazy but I'm in the middle of reading 'Coffee will make you black' and the picture used in this post reminds me of what could be a still if they turned the book about Stevie- into a movie. It's a great book btw. Written by April Sinclair.

  • Samantha Sotto Yambao

    Great article, Tayari. I'm in the middle of writing my second novel and have found it much harder to sit down and get the writing done this time around now that I'm juggling all the work I need to do for my debut's release in August. I suppose that there really is no other way to go about it other than putting one word in front of another. Good luck with your upcoming book and latest project! :)

  • DuEwa Frazier

    Tayari this post is so honest and very true!  Even being in my current MFA program, I realize I haven't always put pen to paper (or finger to keys) to write everyday like I "should," but then I've also realized there's no formula. We "should" on ourselves way too much.  Sometimes I spend 2-3 hours writing, other days I let myself play.  It seems like the more I "play" the more energy I have for writing later.  So my goal is to have a balance of writing and play which seem to go hand in hand.  CONGRATS ON YOUR NEW BOOK!

  • Sharon D. Dillon

    @Michelle, Isn't it interesting how we know what is good for others, but don't take our own advice. On Monday I actually got back to my project after about 5 weeks. Then yesterday I sprouted a beautiful growth of hives, no idea about the cause. So, hopefully today, but the benadryl has me sleepy. So goes the new resolve.

  • AngryCat

    My exposé was rejected so many times in 2010, so the first day of 2011, I started the scariest thing: Writing the book out there in the open:!/pages/Ich-will-hier-weg-aber-wohin/134687846591407?v=wall. So I have to go on, each & every day. Duh.

  • Thanks for this. It helps to know that others get stuck in inertia, too. I started a novel three years ago and set it aside as life took various detours (my dad died, I took a teaching job). I am finally getting back to it. Actually writing, not thinking about it. And it feels really good!

  • Michelle Cale

    Thanks for this honest post.  I've been noodling around with three different ideas for a whole year, and I don't think I could claim I have a single paragraph that would even pass the first draft test - though I have a heck of a lot of bullet points!  Too busy to focus on it, I think to myself.  Well, that's just lame, isn't it.  I hear myself say to my kids (facing an essay) "Just get something down, anything, that'll make it easier to write the real thing."  Shame I haven't been taking my own advice :-)

  • Sharon D. Dillon

    Thank you for letting us know that we're not alone in our fears. Your suggestions will be useful.

  • Cheryl Wright

    Gosh Tayari, why did you have to write this, bare your soul and poke me in mine?  Thanks anyway. I know when my own excuses don't cut it. I know when they stink to high heaven. Thanks too for understanding the fear.

     I have several books in my head but the one that knocks the loudest is the compilation of the articles from my weekly inspirational/motivational/self-improvement column, which debuted in the Womanwise Magazine (a Sunday pullout in the Trinidad Guardian Newspaper) in September 2006. Every week, at least one of the reader emails I receive asks if my book is in the bookstores. And I cringe. I feel ashamed. I feel guilty. I feel inadequate. Fear chills the blood in my veins. Yet, I know without a doubt that I want to do it. I believe that come what may, I  have to do it.  Late last year, I began. WHEW! A real start. The pieces are all lined up. The selection process is in the very, very early stages, but I am returning to that tonight. The headings/sections/chapters scares me silly but that's not important at this stages. There is much rewriting to be done because I have learned and grown so much over these years and 200-plus pieces.  

    Thanks again for sharing your story, your fears and your hopes. You have inspired me and I move forward with a new resolve for my book project.  

  • Kayann Short, Ph.D.

    17 years ago, a friend and I helped each through our dissertations by checking in every morning that we wrote. Now that we're writing for ourselves rather than academia, our duo is back. I finished a chapter yesterday and sent it to her for feedback. Yeah! It feels great to have such an insightful friend and reader backing me up again and I know it will make all the difference in my writing this year.

  • Amelia Sauter

    Oh, the books in my head. And oh, the fear that if I put them on paper they won't be good enough. You describe the paralysis so perfectly. And Kenny, as fictitious as your idea of him probably was, is totally hot.

  • Roxanne

    Wonderful article as usual, Tayari! It is easy to spend all our time thinking about  a brilliant idea or about the joy of being a published author. It is much harder to take that next step - whether it is writing, finishing, editing, or searching for an agent. I am excited because toward the end of last year I moved from a wishin' and a hopin' to a lot more action. This year I am devoting my best time of day - early AM - to my craft. I also wrote a detailed plan of action for this year and consult it regularly to ensure I stay on task.


    PS: Loved the red glasses. I had a pair of those, too. :-)

  • Deborah J. Thompson

    Honest thoughts to which we can ALL relate! Thought I would share my latest Daily Devotion with you: "Battling Insecurity--Becoming a "Jazzy" Person". Here's the link--let me know if it inspired you to move forward!

    Peace be with you!

    Deborah J. Thompson

    Contributing Writer for and "The Fish"

  • Jane Olive

    Thank you for the wonderful article. Many times I find myself enjoying the thinking part much more than the writing part. It is a comfortable spot to be in. I know for me the actual writing part is the scariest. But I am determined that this year will be the year of writing. As the great Frank Herbert said in 'Dune' Fear is the mind killer.

  • Fi Phillips Revising

    Great article. 'Just do it' is probably the best advice anyone can give. This year, instead of fitting my writing in around everything else, I am devoting my week day mornings to my writing.

    Good luck with your published novel and the new idea too.

  • Sandra Gail Lambert

    Oh, Tayari, thank you.  This is exactly my life right now.  (Except for the fourth novel part.)  My novel is revised and off to my agent, and I have this great idea for the next novel and have even written up a little paragraph describing it for a residency application and have told my friends about it and they have cheered and clapped and yet, not the first page is written.  Every day, day after day, I don't write.  But you have clarified that the problem isn't that I need to do more research or whatever.  Fear isn't fun, but I've written through it before.  2011 - here we go.