I’m going to start with what is, in my opinion, one of the most important quotes about writing.
“The worst thing you ever wrote is better than the best thing you never wrote.”
It’s a fact of life that the hardest part of being a writer isn’t planning, it isn’t even writers block or finishing. The hardest part is the starts: you have to start every stage, and gather up that motivation over and over and over.
This makes ‘how to start writing’ one of the questions I get asked pretty often.
Now I’m not talking about how to write words, that’s a matter of sitting down and pumping words out. This is about how to start on a project. That novel you’ve got in you.
So here’s what you need to get started.
Put Judgement Away
This is one of those things that’s both that simple and that hard. Judging yourself is the enemy of every writer, from the first timer to the seasoned professional. Some people can make a career of writing and still never get over it with each and every new story. The problem is that judgement is a vital tool, it’s how we ensure that we do our best work, but the fact is that the start of a story isn’t the time or place for it. This is the time and place where you get things done.
Start your work free of judgement, free of the fear that you aren’t good enough, because even if you aren’t right now you will be by the time the job is done. You can always come back and fix those problems in editing. There are several stages of rewriting and fixing where judgement can enter a little more into your process but in the early days you need to open yourself up to new ideas, not to lock them away.
The Right Amount of Preparation.
The right amount of preparation for a story is a question that’s hard to answer and mostly depends on the kind of person and writer you are. Some of us like to write out our outlines, characters and motivations, where others just throw their characters into the situation and let the story unfold as it may.
Chances are if you’re having trouble getting started and you currently have a document full of ideas and details then you’re the first type. If you’re the second type you’re ready now, I hereby give you permission to stop worrying and just do the thing. It’ll be fine.
For those of us who need to prepare, the trick is having enough preparation to get the work done, but recognise that there’s a limit to how much prep you can do before the work begins and you can always prepare more as you go. Go forth from a position of strength, not paranoia.
The best rule of thumb I can give is that if you can say that you know the plot, characters and setting pretty well that’s well enough for you to begin.
The Perfect First Sentence/Paragraph/Chapter
Does Not Exist.
It’s as simple as that. You cannot write the greatest first part of all time, and agonising over making something perfect before you move on means you’ll never move on. Settle for good, even settle for ok for now. There are several more stages where you can fix what’s wrong.
You’re doing something awesome and remembering that is vital to the starting process. You’re doing something awesome and so often the start of writing seem like a chore. It’s important to remember that this is something you want to do. This is a good, exciting thing! So talk to your friends about it, think about or even work on the fun parts. Imagine the sense of accomplishment you’re going to get when the job’s done.
Writing is a labour of love, so remember to love it!
Go Back to Step 1
Yep. I’m sorry to say it but once you’ve done this and written the story you have to go all the way back and start a rewrite, then to plot edit, then to detail edit, each time with a little more room to get it right.
Don’t worry, after every start you get to enjoy the fun parts. It’s a good process with a satisfying ending and room to grow your craft and work. Every time you need to start you can come back here. Do your prep, stop judging yourself, get excited and go for it!
For those who’ve started all right but are having trouble getting to the end check out ‘The Fine Art of Finishing’ on the Ouroboros blog.
Robert is the author of the Laughing Man Chronicles
Visit Robert’s bio here