I was 21 and living in Paris when I first started telling people that I was a writer. Until then I had never said it out loud. Somehow I had met a group of aspiring film makers who got together every Thursday in a bistro in the Marais – they called it their “jour fixe”. How glamorous, I know. It felt unreal, like one of the movies they talked about, movies that existed only in their minds, movies that might be made one day, or not. The borders of reality were a little blurred, whenI started answering the inevitable question “so, what do you do,” not with “trying to learn French but “I am writing a novel.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. I WANTED to write a novel, I just did not know how. Where to start. As a child, I had fearlessly rewritten all my favorite books, I had jumped from journal to fiction without a second thought. But at some point I suddenly noticed a line between the two, between “my” writing and what I thought of as “real” writing. Maybe this line was imaginary. Maybe it was just a hair crack. The longer I stared at it, the longer I thought about it, the wider it became. By the time I sat at that bistro table, it had become a gaping abyss, impossible for me to cross.
At least nobody laughed. Nobody pointed at me: “What, you a writer? Who are you kidding?”
So I started to believe it myself. That I was a writer. Working on a novel. The more I talked about my novel, the more real it became. It even had a title: Tard dans la nuit, Late at Night, a phrase I had plucked from a concert poster on the wall. From one week to the next, I was growing into my novelist skin. Getting comfortable in it. Then, after about three months of pretending, a young man from Germany joined our group. Of course, he asked if he could read it. It – my imaginary novel.
“Sure”, I said. “I will bring it next week!”
That gave me a week to write a believable three months’ worth of a first draft. I had talked myself into a corner. Now I had to write myself out of it. There was no time to stare at the abyss, to wonder how to jump to other side, where the real writing began. No time to agonize over a perfect first sentence. Not to mention a plot. beginning. That night I went home, locked my self in the bathroom and started writing. Late at night, I wrote, Spät in der Nacht….
On the next “jour fixe” I handed over about 30 pages. The German guy was not impressed. But I didn’t care. I was writing.
Theresa Cross says
Love that I can now read what you write and loved this piece. We are what we believe ourselves to be. A chicken is a fragile egg before it hatches.
Gise Kayser-Gantner says
I already heard this event in German, to read about the start of your career in English makes it surprising new. Wonderful, dear Milena
Heather Cohn says
Ah, what a great story.
This reminds me on the advice: Fake it till you make it.
I prefer the phrase “self-fullfilling prophecy”. :-)