All writing projects come to an end, shutting the writer out, saying, thank you very much, but I’ll take it from here. If the project is big, like a novel, the urge to lie in the sun and smile for no apparent reason is strong—then it passes, leaving a void the project filled for months, maybe even years. So where is the next book, story, essay, poem? I feel as if all creations exist, somewhere–I visualize a door that opens into the attic of ideas, all of which are waiting for someone to dust them off and carry them out into the light. That attic is the subconscious, and the trick is to figure out how to open that door so you can stick your head up into that shadowy space, flashlight in hand. But how?
During this locked-down time I started a file titled “Invitation to a Book.” I open it, put a date at the top of the page and begin to write with zero preparation, zero forethought. Here’s the opening from one of these spills:
It was a year of scraps and snippets, of get-bys and do-withouts. Because folks were so much more at home, a year of cleaner-than-usual kitchen counters, sour dough starters, a long-overdue mastery of French parroted back at a screen, a year of hungry stay-at-home kids, of yelling, tears, and laughter.
Zena sat on a porch stool, the open thesaurus cradled in the hammock of her denim skirt. For once she didn’t have to sneak it. Her older brother, Billy, was at work selling tires. It made his muscles bulge and put folding money in the pocket of his jeans, even if it left his brain unaltered. Billy was a big man in the small world of Randal Junction, cock-sure enough to ridicule her for stuffing her head with fifty-cent words—he said it was about as dumb as her dream of going to college. “Now if it was the Bible you were reading…” he’d say.
The file is getting longer, day after day, beginning after beginning. I have faith that if I keep showing up the next story will too and that one of my beginnings will stretch and grow in response to the sunlight of the page. If you are a writer between stories in these between times, give it a try, send an invitation. Send as many as it takes. Your next story is out there, waiting to be told.