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Begin at the Beginning

I’ll begin at the beginning, with a blank notebook whose pages beg, “Fill me.” It’s four o’clock in the afternoon on a bright spring day. I have taken Lily for an extra long walk, and now I am settled in my leather writing chair and I am— yes— writing. It feels good to put pen to page.
“Lily,” I croon, “you’re a good dog.”
But Lily is not a good dog. She’s a very naughty dog. Chief among her misdeeds is a fondness for pens. Lily is a writer’s dog, I joke. I settle in to write and Lily settles in to steal my pen. I move my hand across the page, and whenever I stop, Lily pounces. She grabs my pen and scampers off, only to emerge minutes later with a disemboweled pen and a jaunty black moustache.
“Lily, I’m trying to write,” I scold her, but the game of “get the pen” gives her great pleasure. She jumps on my lap, landing squarely on my notebook. She grabs my pen and scampers away. So now I am writing with pen number two. What I want to write about is writing itself.
“If only I could begin,” I am often told by would-be writers who can’t get started.
“I know that if I could just begin, I’d be in good shape. But I can’t seem to find my way in.”
Begin at the beginning, I tell such writers, but they often complain, “I don’t know the beginning.” And so, I say again, start where you are.
“But that seems so boring.”
Where you are is not boring, I protest. It’s the start of something grand. Let us say you are seated at your desk, looking out the window. A perfectly fine piece of writing might begin, “I’m seated at my desk, looking out the window.” This first thought leads to a second. A thought at a time, a sentence at a time, the page fills.

10 Comments on "Begin at the Beginning"

  1. yes, thank you! 🙂

  2. Where you are is not boring, I protest. It’s the start of something grand.

    This is something I need to hear right now. Thank you!

  3. Every moment..a new beginning…

  4. Profile photo of Richard Stewart

    Great advice for someone who’s stuck and just can’t seem to find how to start!

  5. Munirah says:

    I love the way you introduce Lily…an adorable distraction. I have a small dog called Lucy. She cocoons herself along my thigh when I write my morning pages. We are incubating together.

  6. Julia,
    I’ve read you for 22 years now and I can’t get enough. Your words never fail to inspire me.I don’t know how you do it…but take care of yourself, I (we) will need you for many years to come. Your gift is truly amazing. Thank you.

  7. What a wonderful piece of advice, I love your writing and how you inspire others.

  8. Christi Capizzi says:

    Much gratitude in your knowledge of begin in the beginning… wonderful start for me to see. Starting morning pages tomorrow and have read through just a couple pages, excited to start this journey.

  9. Joseph Taylor says:

    I’ve come back to you. Pulled your book off the shelf and saw I dated my last time reading it. 23 years ago. Since then? Descent and ascent through alcoholism and emerging clean and sober again. Yearning to connect to creativity, I make a new start. Feeling a connection. A guide saying, “c’mon…this way. It’ll be ok.”

    Thank you for your words.


  10. You changed my life with your book. I’ve bought copies for coworkers and friends… Excellent gift idea – everyone I shared it with agreed with how profound It is.
    Thank you.

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