You’re thinking about writing but you can’t seem to start. You’re afraid to start. How do you kick yourself into action? How do you turn yourself into a war machine of wordy output?
In this post, I’ll walk you through the steps you need to take. Starting from well before you even put your first word on the page, all the way through to typing The End (or To Be Continued).
You doubt you can do it, but you can.
Don’t Worry about Fancy Software
You’re thinking, “The right tool for the right job.” What quill does JK Rowling use, and which shop in Diagon Alley did she buy it from? Where do George R R Martin’s blood-soaked words first come into the world? Maybe you’ve heard about Scrivener, or you Googled writing tools and up came thirty results all promising you that they’re the future all authors will move towards.
It doesn’t matter. Use Microsoft Word. Use Google Docs. Use a notebook from your local stationery store and a ballpoint pen from a cheap pack of ten. Whatever you have to hand. Whatever you’re comfortable writing in. That’s the right one for you.
I started with a ballpoint pen and loose lined A4 paper attached to a clipboard. It’s what I had available. These days I use Word. I tried Scrivener but it tied me to a single computer. With Word I can move between my desktop computer and a Chromebook, where I use Microsoft’s free online version of Word. I wanted the mobility and this setup does the job for me.
Don’t Worry about the Market
You think you need to write what’s in vogue right now. But that can leave you writing about something you’re not interested in. It can make writing a horrible chore. You’ll hate every minute of it.
Not long before writing this post, I read an interview with the people who run Wattpad. They have, in effect, real time data on what their users are searching for. Werewolves are growing in popularity. You could try to ride that werewolf wave.
But if the idea bouncing around in your head is a story about two tech support guys who purge haunted computers of the poltergeists that drive hapless finance departments insane by fiddling with their numbers in Excel spreadsheets, you should write that.
Because your sheer love of your topic will come through in your writing. And your reader will feel that, and enjoy your story too.
Don’t Worry about the Length
A standard novel from a traditional publisher is between 75 and 160 thousand words long. Some genres allow a little longer, or a little shorter, but that’s the general rule. And while readers do expect that length, it’s really just habit.
Because the length of novels has a lot to do with the economies of paper book manufacture. That word-count range is cost-effective for print.
But ebooks can be any length. You could write a 25 thousand word novella, upload it to Amazon and put a price of 99 cents/pence on it. That’s totally okay.
25K words isn’t so hard. If you’re just starting out, it might be a good target.
Don’t Worry about the Opening
You have to hook your reader from the first sentence, you’ve been told. If you don’t get it right, the reader will drop your book at the first full stop. So you don’t start until you have that perfect first sentence. They make lists of the best first sentences in novels. You want to be on that list.
Don’t do that.
Start with a couple of characters and a scene. That’s it. Ideally, have a conflict between the two characters. You might know these characters well or they might just be silhouettes. You might know how the scene plays out. You might find out as you go.
You’re in the discovery phase when you start. You’re learning about your characters, your setting and your story. So start and discover. You can change it later in the editing stage, if it needs it.
For example, when it came time to edit the first draft of Ghost Electricity, I swapped chapters 1 and 2 around, then rewrote the opening from the other character’s point of view. I needed to see it on the page to know it needed doing.
Don’t Sit Down to Write Without Knowing What’s Next
If you sit down at your computer, open up your work in progress and only then ask yourself, “What’s next?” you’re going to struggle.
That ten minutes you spend sitting there wondering what’s next will be awfully disheartening. You will feel like you’ve got nothing to say, like you’re not going to make it at this writing thing, like you’ll never get to the end of your novel.
Instead, at various times during the day, think about what comes next. Remind yourself why your story excites you. Think about it on your commute or while you’re waiting in line for coffee. If all else fails, jump in the shower right before you start writing and think about it then.
That way when you sit down to write, you’ll hit the ground running.
Don’t Talk Yourself Out of It
At some point when writing a novel you’re going to think, “This is crap. I should give up.”
Every writer thinks this somewhere in their novel. Usually a few times. Just keep going. When you come back to it in the editing stage, you’ll probably find it’s not as bad as you feared. The scene your thought was terrible may work. It may need some tweaking. It may need replacement. None of these things is a reason to give up.
Don’t abandon your novel. Keep going.
Don’t Stop Until the End
You will be tempted to go back and fix or change something as you write your first draft. Maybe you changed your mind on a plot point. Maybe you want to drop a minor character.
Don’t do it. Your job when writing the first draft is to get to the end. If you change your mind on anything at all, just pretend you started that way and keep going. Keep that momentum.
Get to the end of the novel. It’s the most important thing you can do when you’re writing your first draft.
Writing a novel takes time. It takes work. It takes commitment. But like many things, it’s just a matter of getting yourself going. If any of the above fears – or all of them – are stopping you, now you know what you can do about it.
So don’t worry. Get writing and find out where your story is going to take you.