I’ve been thinking about debuts lately. I suppose mostly in relation to the book world. It’s hard to get away from thinking about career steps when I’m so involved in walking my own. Until recently, I always thought of a debut as something positive. It’s intended as such, I think. It’s about being at the start of something, or leading off with something. It’s derivative of the French verb débuter, which is to start.
So we talk a lot about debuts in fiction when we refer to new authors. A *first* book is a debut. (I’m using ** here to make a point). I see plenty of reviews for debuts that remark on how stunning they are, praising a writer for her use of language, or craft, or imagination, etc. I understand why a reader is inclined to note these aspects, as well as gush at a writer’s ability to present them so readily in a debut. It’s got to be innate talent, right?
Fluff to that. Innate talent is one thing but with discipline and practice, the artist builds confidence. And making art requires a TON of confidence. It requires vulnerability, too, which can leave you raw and exposed. Without confidence in your ability, you run the risk of losing the magic everyone thinks you possess. (Psst, it isn’t magic. It’s skill).
I’ve taught writing to college students for a few years now, all of them at varying levels of ability, but the one commonality is confidence. Most of them lack confidence in their ability to express their thoughts clearly, and that’s because they aren’t experienced enough with written expression. Over time, and with practice, they start to get there. I try to foster confidence in new writers more than I focus on teaching them where to put commas. I’d like to think I’ve had some results. At least, so I’ve heard from some of them.
Take the actor who goes out on stage night after night, relying on some whimsical sensory experience to do the heavy lifting. Without technique, he’s doomed to fail. Try weeping every single evening, week after week, month after month, for an audience that may snicker, or cough, or check their phones. If you don’t know how to use breath to bring yourself into a sloppy fit of tears (assuming you’ve been directed to do so), you’re doomed the night you can’t stop thinking about the funny incident on the way to the theatre. So innate talent is one thing, technique is another.
Same as anything else, a writer gets to her debut through a myriad of attempts because the only way to build the confidence required to write anything is to write again and again. It takes a long time, a boatload of trial, an ocean of failure. I don’t just mean multiple drafts for each manuscript. That’s something else altogether. I mean challenging yourself to begin again from scratch. To build a new world, create a fresh villain, plot an original story. Each time, you reset your mind and stretch the boundaries you’ve placed on language. You create to recreate to create.
Fall in love with your current masterpiece. You kind of have to. Then let it go, and fall in love with the next one. Keep at it, day after day. Over time, you’ll reap the benefits of all your endings and finally reach your debut.