If you never get started…

Start writing, no matter what . The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. Louis L'Amour

“Start writing, no matter what…” (Click to embiggen)

I’m getting ready to do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) again, which means that I’m also attempting to recruit people to join in the challenge. I was one of those people who for years encouraged other people to do it without doing it myself. I would refer to the time that I wrote a 75,000 word technical manual from scratch, all the actually writing done in only a couple of weeks, and point out that I already knew that I could rack up a big word count. And I’ve had fiction published, lots of short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novel-length pieces.

But word count isn’t what it’s all about. It’s also about setting some goals (maybe very crazy goals) and pushing yourself through it. There’s something kinda magickal about getting to the end of the month after having written so much, commiserating with others trying the same thing.

My last couple of pep talks have been about just making yourself sit down and plow through, learning not to get paralyzed by the need for perfection, or fear that it isn’t good enough, and so on. A big part of writing is, indeed, a matter if putting down the next word, and the next, and the next, until you reach the end. In fact, for a project like NaNoWriMo, that’s what most of the month will be about.

But even though lots of famous writers say the same thing: all that matters is the next word, that isn’t really all that matters.

Before there can be a next word, there has to be a first word, doesn’t there? Getting started is more than just typing a word. If you are doing a novel, or a play, or writing a script for a comic, or writing a memoir, you need to have some definition of the story, and you need to have a starting point.

Novels don’t necessarily need the same sort of quick hook opening sentence that a short story does. Because the reader knows they’re going into a longer story, they will probably give you more than just the opening sentence to grab their attention. But the opening does still need to be a hook. And not just for the reader. It needs to hook you. Before you can hook yourself, you need to have an idea what the story is.

While I have listed myself on the NaNoWriMo web page as a Planner rather than a Pantser (someone who jumps in and writes “by the seat of their pants”), I’m not big on elaborate plans and outlines before I write. My novel, The Trickster Apocalypse started as an opening scene that just came to me when I was supposed to be writing a story I had promised another ‘zine editor. Even when I’d finished writing a 3,000 word beginning that night, I didn’t think it was a novel. It was after I’d written a few more chunks that big that I figured out what it was.

Other times I’ve started with something like this: “Cheating death and the consequences thereof. M and J each seek ancient artifacts and forbidden tomes for very different purposes. L dies.”

Occasionally I put together much more elaborate outlines or charts. My charts have gotten a bit easier to make and edit since I bought Scapple, a program made by the fine folks responsible for Scrivener. But usually I don’t do that until I’ve gotten a few tens of thousands of words into the story.

M. Harold Page has a post up on the Black Gate website linking to a whole bunch of writing advice posts. This one, Find the Conflict: Unblocking (or Actually Planning!) your NaNoWriMo Novel is a nice overview of how to plan without making an elaborate outline. He includes some screenshots of some of his charts. Also, Ryland J.K. Lee has a nice post about some of the same tools and some others: Software and tools for planning a first draft: colored pencils, Scrivener, and more.

If you have a basic conflict: something your protagonist wants but there’s something in her way, you can take the classic reversal of fortune approach. Two steps forward, then one step back. As in: 1) A woman wants to be a concert pianist, 2) then she loses an arm, 3) luckily she meets another aspiring pianist with only one arm, 4) but it’s the same arm… It’s really easy to do, though it can get a little tiresome if you keep it only internal. Which is why it helps if you have supporting characters with their own thwarted desires.

But the important thing is to have a beginning in mind, even if it is a beginning that you know you will have to revise later. Once you are started, there are millions of ways to find the means to put down the next word, and the next.

But you have to start!

Start writing, no matter what . The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.
—Louis L’Amour

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

2 responses to “If you never get started…”

  1. M Harold Page says :

    Glad you found the blog entry useful. If you email me, I’ll send you a review copy of the book….

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