11/26/2013 11:21 am ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

The Nightmare of a New Novel

A sense of incipient dread spreads though me when I first sit down to begin a new novel. No matter how many times I've done it before, the initial reaction is the same: where will this go? Will the attempt lead me to a dead end from which I can't be extricated?

Perhaps it's a crisis in confidence, but it's far more than just a case of writer's block. In fact, I'm not sure "writer's block" is a valid name for this state of mind.

A novel is an organic thing. In a very real sense, it lives, breathes and takes on a life of its own, independent of my initial outline or plot summary. The outline never ensures full-blooded characters, not does it guarantee a rich plot, with compelling narrative drive. Hopefully, the story will grow or even change direction from the first plot summary, and the end result will be something I'd never anticipated. I never truly know the outcome -- even as I'm traveling the novel's trajectory -- which can be part of the pleasure and nightmare of writing. In fact, whenever I look at the final product -- the published novel -- I find myself wondering where it all came from.

Once I barge past that initial feeling of immobilization, the writing assumes its own energy. Many things emerge. They seem to come from some deep mental recess. The experience can seem like a mystifying, dreamlike process, or even a strange form of magic.

But it's not magic. Rather, mine is the writer's oneiric landscape over which the quest occurs to capture in words, the thoughts and feelings of my characters in their turbulent stories.

I wonder if every writer experiences this when beginning a new work. I don't know. I can only speak for myself.

Some people claim to experience this peculiar form of paralysis they call "writer's block." It seems to me, they just can't get past the nightmarish fear of not knowing where it will all go, and beginning the hard work a novel demands -- the brutal and beautiful slog of writing fiction.

Mark Rubinstein
Author of Mad Dog House and Love Gone Mad