Terra Incognita (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I like the familiar. Often I would rather go deeper into known territory, dig beneath the surface, look for treasures I missed the first time, than move to completely new territory.

That plays out in the jolt I get going from an old book to a new one. While there’s pleasure and anticipation in new beginnings, there’s also the awkwardness of the unknown. That awkwardness is reminiscent of my having been a “new kid” at more than one school in my childhood: I don’t know where anything is! I don’t know who these people are! I don’t know what’s coming next!

When I start a new book, I’m fumbling around. Characters pop up, and I don’t know their backstories. I don’t know if I can trust my narrator. I can’t tell who’s attracted to whom; sometimes I matchmake and it doesn’t work. I’m not always sure who will still be alive at the end of the story.

By the time I finish the book, I know the characters inside out. The plot seems inevitable, the setting so familiar that I half-believe I’ve lived there myself. Now I have to leave them all and stare down another new beginning.

It’s the willingness to stumble and feel stupid, the ability to get through the uncomfortable phase, that gets me through to the polished ending. I test out different plotlines to find the one that isn’t a dead end. I order the characters around, and then when they give me nothing but stiff, unnatural scenes, I step back and let them be themselves instead. Sometimes I find characters who don’t even belong in this story, and I usher them out the back door. Perhaps they’ll appear in another story, later.

New beginnings are about letting myself be a novice, a student. They’re about admitting what I don’t know. And they’re about finding out.


  1. "...willingness to stumble and feel stupid..." THAT IS SO TRUE...

  2. Awesome post, Jennifer. I'm trying, trying to get through my own uncomfortable phase...Thank you for reminding me that it really is this way.

  3. Love this post, Jennifer. A good reminder that we writers have to trust the process. What's that quote from Doctorow?
    “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." Somehow this is still hard to do, even when we know that we will figure it out in the end.

    1. Thanks!
      And yes, the drive can be scary, even if it turns out well at the end.


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