Wonder Boi Writes

Reader Q and A: Start Me Up

Sue asks, “I would love to know how you “start” your writing. I find myself at the rebirth of my academic research life, and the blank pages are daunting. Lots to say, but the start is escaping me.”

Well that is a timely question for me, Sue, because I started writing on a new project this week. It’s one of the many ideas that’s been rolling around in my head for the last two months, so I suppose the first step in the process for me was deciding that I actually wanted to write it down. Lots of ideas float around and never make it to paper. Other are strong and will definitely make good books someday, but for one reason or another it’s not their time yet. I usually go with the one where I hear the characters the most clearly in my head.  Plot will work its way out, but I can’t start without characters.

The next step is to start putting words to paper.   Sometimes I do a little plotting before this (other authors do a lot of plotting); other times I put down a few phrases I hear from the characters.  I’m a linear writer, so I can’t just jump in by writing a scene in the middle of the book.  Everything I write follows on the heels of something that came before it, so if I have an idea for something that happens later in the book, I’ll just make a note like the one I jotted down today that said, “Teacher, talking about Hamlet could do a lesson on action vs. inaction.”  That might make it into the book, or maybe by the time we get to that point it won’t fit, so there’s no use writing it until I need it.

During these early stages, there’s a lot of staring at walls and out windows.  I’m building people from the ground up.  I don’t even know their names, much less their parents or friends or what their apartment looks likes.  One day the only thing I write might be something to the effect of, “dark hair, round face, mid length hair <look up styles>.”  It’s just a string of random details some that will appear in the book, some that won’t, and others that I don’t have answers for but will need to be aware of in days to come.  This part of the process might take days.  It might not be anything more than jotting notes on my iPad in the doctor’s office.

I will put off the actual writing for any number of reasons: I’m busy, I’m hungry, the characters aren’t ready, I don’t know how to write books anymore.  Then one day I will become disgusted with my laziness and force myself to put my ass in the chair and write something.   I always start at the beginning (Julie Andrews taught me that’s a very good place to start), and generally I start with dialogue.  I hear the characters long before I see them.  Almost all of my books have taken off from one conversation in my head.  With the project I started working on this week, all I wrote was the words spoken between the two characters in the scene.  It was all I had, but I got that out.  The next day I reread the dialog and added a dialogue tag each time it wasn’t clear who was speaking.  Then when I read that scene, I asked myself what kind of background/visual details were necessary to make the conversation make sense, and I filled that in.

The long and sort of it is, I’ll never be “ready” to start a novel.  And the first things I write will not be complete, they won’t be good, they might not even make sense to me, but you can’t fix a blank page.  I’ve got to put something down before I can see what’s missing or broken.  It’s a slow, messy process.  In the middle of a novel, I’m not happy with anything under 1000 words a day.  In the beginning I’m thrilled with 500.  Everyone’s process will be different, but in order to start writing, you can plan and plot, you can stare at walls, you can let the fear overwhelm you.  However, if you really want to starting writing,  I’ve found that most of us have to do just that, and simply start writing.

February 15, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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