When I share advice or ideas for managing writing problems, it’s usually because I’m currently or have very recently, going through an experience where I needed advice or ideas of my own. Today’s post is absolutely based on a current writing struggle I’m having with myself, and I hope a little tough love from me to me and from me to you can help get the wheels rolling on just starting the damn book.
I have an idea.
It’s the best idea I’ve ever had. It’s been marinating for six months, maybe a year. I am in love with this idea.
But this idea scares me too. To start, it’s a bigger book than I’ve ever written before. It’s also a different genre than anything I’ve tried in the past. And, it requires a whole hell of a lot of research that I don’t have at my fingertips. How, oh how, can I start writing this book?
By starting writing the book.
As I’ve written about here in the past, we often get so bogged down with the idea of getting it right on the first try that we never finish or, in some cases, never start our projects. The reality is, however, that we can contemplate and research and dream up the ultimate epic for the rest of our lives, and the first draft still won’t be perfect. The perfect first draft is a myth. No one, in all of writing history, has ever had a perfect first draft. But you still need a first draft to get to the perfect story below, so how do you get started?
Don’t Start at the Beginning
Yeah, I know, I’ve made statements about this one before, but I mean it a little more literally this time. When we develop new book or poem ideas, they don’t always come to us in order. The very first line that got you excited to write this new book may be, in fact, a section of dialogue from the last scene. It may be the description of a setting from the second chapter. It may be a character don’t meet until the hero is well and truly in trouble. If it excites you enough to get you wanting to write the whole book, then start writing there and go back later. It’s a far better cry than not writing at all.
Leave the Blank Spaces
I’ve gone back and forth about how much research I need to do before a book and I’ve come to the conclusion that it really depends on which book it is and how much research is needed. That said, you don’t want to let a fear of not knowing everything keep you from getting started.
Give yourself permission to research on the fly or simply to leave blanks where you just don’t know yet. This will help you to create something that can be fixed later, as opposed to simply another blank page.
Begin the Outlining Process
Stories like the bug that’s bitten me can be overwhelming, but good organization and planning can provide the confidence you need to get started. A section of my bulletin board has been devoted to quotes, ideas and outlining for this book and I’ve opened a file for saving the relevant information I don’t want to have to worry about later. Sometimes simply putting the pen to paper and creating the barest outline can make a big idea seem far more manageable.
Accept That It Won’t Be Perfect
We’re writers, which means we have big imaginations and ideas as to what the writer’s life is supposed to look like. We dream of scribbling along on rainy days, of pacing the kitchen with our third cup of tea in hand, of struggling against writer’s block and big ethical dilemmas. The truth is, my writerly challenges are more like paying the bills and having time to write my own books. I will never have enough time, resources or research to feel totally prepared. The circumstances will never be perfect. Once I accept that truth, I give myself permission to start writing.
Literally Just Start
I started a different project recently, with a relatively near due date (cough, February, cough) and I definitely don’t have the time I need to finish it the way I finish most of my books. So I set it up in a Google Doc instead of a Word Doc, and I’ve been hacking out a couple thousand words whenever I can. I’d hazard a guess that I’ve actually written about two-thirds of this current book in doctor’s offices and while my students are free-writing, rather than on a computer. I’m getting the first draft done the way that works best for me. Find the way that works best for you.
Starting massive new projects can be intimidating, no matter what a massive new project may look like for you. Just like rejections, writer’s block and the harrowing editing process, messy first drafts are the rule, not the exception. They are a part of getting from where you stand now to the finish line, the book you dreamed of in hand. Don’t let your own expectations, your own fear of failing, your desire to make this book perfect on the first try, prevent you from getting started. It will be perfect eventually. But you’ll have to start writing today to make it happen. ♥
Wonderful recommendations. I know so many of my fellow writers fall victim to everything you describe here. Thank you for putting it into words.
Thank you so much for reading and your kind words! I’m only share the methods that have worked for me–writing is a continuous learning experience, right? Best of luck on your own artistic journey!
Man, I so needed this. I’d been doing that all of last year but thankfully I’ve started writing my prologue. Great advice! ♥️
Yay! I’m so glad you’re feeling inspired! Sometimes getting started is the hardest part!