I would like to start by thanking everyone who visited the various blogs that hosted me during my Eat Crow and Die Blog Tour. And congratulations to Patrick Siu who won the gift card.
How do you start? That was the question asked by a new member at a writers’ group I attended yesterday. The answer, of course, is simple. You start by writing.
The problem is most new writers have so many ideas bouncing around in their heads, they don’t know where to start. They feel they have to have a beginning that tells the reader all about the characters: how they got to this point, why they want what they want. If the writers have read How-To books, they also know a good opening must have a hook, conflict, give an idea of the setting, time period, tone and so on. Or if it’s non-fiction, they feel they must tell the reader exactly what they’re going to prove with the article or book. They feel the opening has to be perfect. And often when they do start writing, they discover what they’ve written doesn’t sound as good on paper as it did in their heads. They get discouraged and quit.
To start, one has to realize those initial words, sentences, and paragraphs don’t need to be perfect. Most writers, new or experienced, soon discover the opening needs to be scrapped or changed before the piece takes the form they want. Only a few writers can mentally create an article, lecture, or novel in their heads. Most writers have a general idea of what they want and how to put it together, or they may have mentally viewed scenes as if watching a movie, but it isn’t until those words are actually written (on paper or on a computer) that they can see what needs to be added, deleted, or rearranged.
The answer on how to start is simply start. The final piece may take a linear form (opening, middle, and end), but your initial writing doesn’t need to be in that form. Know exactly how you want the story to end? Write it down. Know a scene that you think would be great for the story? Write it down.
Once you have those scenes or ideas written, you can rearrange, rewrite, or totally cut. In the process of writing, more ideas will develop that can be added to your initial idea. Or maybe you’ll decide to go a different direction. In fiction, characters often take over. If the writer has developed three-dimensional characters, those characters may not react in a way that fits the writer’s original idea. Well developed characters will make the story stronger.
If you are a linear writer (as I am) and can’t simply write a scene here and there, then write from start to finish, but don’t feel what you write initially must be perfect. Anne Lamott (bird by bird) calls it the “shitty first draft.” Make yourself think of it that way. Just get the idea out of your head and into a written form.
Then step away from it. Leave it for a few days. If you think of things you want to add, write them down on a sticky note or separate file.
Once you’ve given yourself time away, then go back and read what you’ve written. Then start the editing and polishing. Now you can because you have something that’s more than an idea. It’s more than a blank piece of paper.