THE BOOK DOCTOR
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FINDING THE NEW ON THE PAGE
Image by Isaac Smith
By Caroline Donahue
Ah, January. I don’t know about you, but I spend the second half of December every year dying to tear open my brand new planner and other stationery that’s been sitting in my cupboard ready for the new year to begin.
Along with this process comes an elaborate ritual of dreaming up new goals and ideas for the coming year. This has involved giant post-its stuck to the wall and bright colored pens, but this year… I just couldn’t.
Many of the plans I’ve gotten excited about in past years have involved travel, seeing friends and family, or new adventures. Thinking about those sorts of plans brought up more sadness than excitement. What’s the point of making lists of things when we have no idea of when and if we’ll be able to do them?
But there was one thing that I was able to do all of 2020, something that let me escape, travel to other places, at least virtually, and still got me excited. Writing. I finished a revision of my novel in 2020 and am currently polishing it up to send out to agents.
We had to give up so much in 2020, in many cases to a frightening degree. Connection, novelty, travel, and for many people even work was out of the question the way it was done before. And, despite all of our optimism for 2021, those restrictions are still in place pretty much worldwide.
How can we bring new eyes and new views into our very small and limited worlds right now? Can you look out your window and pretend to be someone else looking at that same view? How would a very different person react to your home or your routine? What about someone looking out your window in a different time period? We can find new views if we write through new eyes as characters.
In an effort to bring a sense of adventure and challenge into my day-to-day routine, I decided to start the new year with a fresh new writing project. I needed something new to think about, even if I couldn’t explore a new landscape in the outside world. So I took on a character—a film location scout stranded in Berlin at the beginning of the Covid pandemic in spring 2020 and stuck her in a flat with a view much like my own: one that faces a courtyard with many many windows, much like a certain Hitchcock film.
In order to make it even more exciting, I decided I was going to share this story way sooner than I normally do. Instead of writing for a year and then sharing with a writing group or my editor, I am writing a short chapter a week and sending it out as an email to my email list and sharing it right away. This is a totally new process and one that is a bit terrifying, but terrifying is better than another year of the same old thing, isn’t it?
Can you write a different way this year? Can you take a risk in your writing to counterbalance how careful we need to be in the real world? This has energized me to no end and, while I have a character arc for my main character, there’s a lot that’s still unknown about this project, even after the first chapter has been sent out.
I’d love to invite you to join in this experiment with me. If you’d like to read the story as it comes out, you can do so here. It’s called The Voyeur and it’s one of the craziest things I’ve tried so far. I even had a friend compose theme music and my husband, a designer and animator, created a trailer for the story which you can see above.
This would never have occurred to me to do if I hadn’t asked myself the question: What can I do with my writing this year that is totally new?
So I ask you the same: How can you find the new on the page to carry you however long we are still in a waiting room of sorts. I promise finding the new internally will help.
Please do share what you try in the comments. I can’t wait to hear about your explorations on the page! Happy writing, as always.
Caroline Donahue is an American writer, podcaster, and English teacher living in Berlin. She is the host of The Secret Library podcast and co-host of GTFO pod. She is the co-editor of I Wrote it Anyway: An Anthology of Essays, and the author of Story Arcana : Using Tarot for Writing. She is currently at work on her first novel. Learn more at carolinedonahue.com