A few years ago I was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. I had a little office on the third floor of an old building and the wonderful novelist Katherine Vaz (“Our Lady of the Artichokes”) had an office nearby. The scholar Leah Price, who had an office downstairs said that the two of us working under the eaves reminded her of Sara Crewe and Ermengarde in their garret in “A Little Princess.”
Katherine and I were starting new novels. Mine was “The Cookbook Collector.” Every once in a while we’d meet on the stairs or in the hall and we’d confess we were slightly nervous. We were both doing a good bit of research and the question was–when do you stop researching and start writing? At one point I told Katherine–with a confidence I didn’t feel–”Don’t worry! Stop reading and start writing. Just plunge in and forge ahead.”
After that, whenever we met, Katherine would say quite solemnly, “Plunge in and forge ahead. Plunge in and forge ahead.” At some point I confessed that I didn’t really know what I was talking about and I was feeling pretty muddled myself, but the mantra was working for her. Katherine kept saying it, and after a while, so did I.
The truth is that when you’re starting a new project you have to do whatever works. If writing 80 pages by hand on legal paper with a fine point purple pen is working for you, stick with it.
If going to the same coffee shop every night works for you, keep it up.
If you find a mantra that comforts you, keep saying it. I think I can. I think I can.