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FOR WRITERS

White Space: Ski Slopes & Story Beginnings

Writers: Ever freeze up trying to get an important new story started? Your mind is going a thousand miles an hour, searching for the perfect beginning, but your fingers are caught in quick-set concrete. You are jammed. The upshot is that nothing gets on the paper.

Skiers: Ever freeze up at the top of a steep new double black-diamond trail? Your heart's in your throat beating a good 500/min, your mouth's suddenly dry as dust, you're seeing yourself flying a thousand miles per hour into a solid wall of ice, but your skis are bolted solid to the snow. Not going anywhere; You are jammed. The upshot is that your tracks don't make it down the trail at all.

It was easy for me to recognize the similarity between the two situations because I both ski and write. Every time I am really challenged at either, at first it is easy for me to do what is called "projecting the wreckage of the future."

With writing, it's a fear of not being able to meet my expectations--that I won't be able to meet the towering demands of the tale I've chosen. I'll forget all of the stories I've written and had success at, the good reviews, the praise from critics and editors. Instead all I can see is literary paralysis, the sad shaking heads, and the end of my career.

With skiing, it's the same: not being able to meet my expectations--that I won't be able to ski the dangerous steeps before me. I'll forget all of the really challenging trails I've had fun skiing in the past, and the compliments on my abilities by skiers and ski instructors whose opinions I respect. Instead, all I can imagine is me falling, zipping off the trail, flying over a cliff, and mangling myself in a pile of rocks and trees.

The cure in skiing for me is to pull over to the side of the trail and watch other skiers--some better than me, some not as good--do the trail that scares me. It usually takes no more than a minute or two, but once I see that the trail can be skied, and how different skiers do it, I can go ahead and ski the trail, do it my way, and have fun doing it.

With that tough story beginning, I have a collection of different story starts done by various authors I like for a variety of reasons. Some of the writers are better than me, some not so good. But I start reading these story starts and it usually takes only a few minutes reminding myself that demanding and entertaining story starts have been written, a number of different ways it's been done, then I can go ahead, begin my story my way, keep on writing, and have fun doing it.

Ever get jammed up with story starts? Go ahead. Try the method above. It works.
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