Once, long, long ago, there was a first sentence: "There is a sound that holds my life suspended."
But getting that sentence to become a scene, and that scene to become a story, was almost insurmountably difficult--though after several years of labor it did grow into a thoroughly unpublishable novel.
At first words seemed isolated in space; they didn't want to connect to each other, roll through each other, gather momentum.
At first, writing was all about discipline. Now discipline barely enters into it. Now writing is almost like a property of my body, an activity inherent in my fingers; they land on the keyboard much as rain taps at the street. Now bits of new stories as well as scenes from old ones often play on and on in my head: words I once put on paper constitute a kind of default setting that my thoughts fall into when I'm not focusing on anything in particular.
I couldn't say when I stopped needing discipline, only that it took years of practice to get to that point.
The real value of firsts for me lies in what they may lead to, I think, not in themselves. I can't remember the first time I woke up to see my husband still asleep, but I'm quite sure he didn't seem as beautiful to me then as he does now. It's the repetition of that experience which has let it grow and unfold into a gestalt. Any morning when I watch him sleep is a small flower of the particular--this morning and no other--that grows from a larger essence: Todd asleep and beautiful, as he has been so many times, until the sight of him seems distilled into something eternal.