MORE ON BEGINNINGS: A BRIEF INTERVIEW WITH MASHA HAMILTON
This is the second in a series of short interviews with writers about the emotional and psychological processes involved in creative writing. I asked Masha to describe the process of beginning a new novel:
I don't plot a new piece. It is a lot scarier than that for me; questions start to bubble to the surface, and I begin to feel a character, as unformed as that sounds. Then I look for the "inciting incident," the moment that is going to challenge the character in difficult and unexpected ways and start off some action that will change lives. Usually that inciting incident stays roughly the same as I work on the novel, but really, everything else is open to change. I try to remind myself if I don't have something on the page, I have nothing to revise, because I know the beginning is simply creating something to revise!
So, by the time you actually get to the point of writing, are the character and incident so clear in your mind that you feel ready to set it all down in draft, almost as if you were recording something that was actually happening, rather than creating from scratch? Or are there steps between conceptualizing and writing?
The character and the inciting incident are clear enough to get me excited. I know what I want to explore, and how, in essence, to trigger that exploration. And that trigger occurs in scene, so yes, I can kind of see the scene by the time I actually start writing it. I'm writing it as though it will be the first chapter. It always ends up near the start, but it doesn't always end up as Chapter One.
It sounds comforting, to remind ourselves that what we write at the beginning will almost certainly be changed, so there’s no point in stressing over it. Does it work that way for you? Are you able to just start writing, knowing that you’ll probably come back and revise?
Yes, it is really comforting to me. In fact, it surprises me how much can change months and even years into the project--although "change" isn't exactly the right word. Clarify is more what I mean.
Masha Hamilton is the author of four novels, most recently 31 Hours, and the founder of two world literacy projects, the Afghan Women's Writing Workshop and the Camel Book Drive.
Susan O'Doherty, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with a New York City-based practice. A fiction writer herself, she specializes in issues affecting writers and other creative artists. She is the author of Getting Unstuck without Coming Unglued: A Woman's Guide to Unblocking Creativity (Seal, 2007). Her Career Coach column appears every Monday on Inside Higher Ed's Mama, Ph.D. blog, and she is a regular guest panelist on Litopia After Dark. She can be reached at Dr.Sue at mindspring dot com.