You’ve made up your mind. Today is the day! You’ve long held a dream that you would be an author and today is the day that you’re going to start your journey. You grab your MacBook Air, Bluetooth headphones, and head to the nearest Bus Boys and Poets. That’s where all the DC writers write, right? This is your day to start.
You find a comfortable chair. You order the Chipotle Grilled Chicken Panini sandwich and some version of an herbal tea. Maybe peppermint. It really doesn’t matter. The type of tea you drink will bear no weight on what’s about to go down. Today is YOUR day. You’re starting to fell like an author already.
The food comes and you eat. Your favorite artist plays on Spotify and you listen. You people watch for almost an hour and a half. Then you spark conversation with a welcoming soul who is just a chair away. But after three hours, you leave Bus Boys and Poets no closer to your goal of becoming an author. No characters were created. Pages weren’t written. Plot twists and dialogue fell victim to good intentions. But alas, no story.
While I can’t put my finger on the exact root of the problem, I do know that oftentimes we fall in the trap of not knowing where to start. Writing a novel is journey that requires some form of movement in the beginning. Whether large or small, movement is needed, nevertheless. Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The same can be said for novel writing. The journey toward an 80,000-word novel begins with a single word. And that single word is powerful enough to compel you toward a completed project. You need a starting point.
Starting points will differ from author to author. Marian Schembari published a blog post a couple years ago titled, How to Start Writing a Book: A Peek Inside One Writer’s Process. She offered some excellent advice that will help you start your writing process. But I must say, I really love Step 1! She says, “Procrastinate writing by READING about writing.”
Authors who don’t read about the process of writing will rarely be effective writers. Procrastination is a part of the writing process. Every writer goes through it. Take the time now, to commit yourself to the reading, research, and study of the craft of writing, during those times of procrastination. No matter how gifted a writer you are, you can always benefit from reading about the craft.
The first two books (which were invaluable) I read about novel writing are:
How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them – A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman
This book showed me everything I wanted to stay away from as a storyteller. The focus on plot, character, and style made me familiar with the individual elements of the story. And as a novice writer, it made me more comfortable with performing surgery. I needed to be able to identify these different elements in order to cut out anything that didn’t add value to my novel.
No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel by Chris Baty
The founder of the world’s largest writing event, the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), wrote this book. The NaNoWriMo takes place every November. Countless authors from all over the world, commit to using the month to write a new novel of 50,000 words or more. Writers of all skill levels accept and complete this challenge. And plenty of other writers accept and fail. The book is a great tool for writers to help them move from a blank page to a finished product.
While I didn’t take part in NaNoWriMo, this was still a great book to read because it gave me a perspective on novel writing that I share with everyone who asks me about writing a book. Our job as writers is to simply write the damn book. Write a beginning, middle, and end. Crank out a first draft. We get so caught up in revising as we write, that we never make it past the first twenty pages. But this book drilled into my head the importance of killing the need for perfection.
One of my favorite quotes is from Ernest Hemingway. “The first draft of everything is shit.” Well if that’s good enough for Hemingway, then that’s good enough for me! At the BEGINNING of our novel journey, we need to start with the idea that what whatever we write in FIRST DRAFT form, will be perfected through later revisions. Where do you start? Start by writing something. Anything! It’s been said that you can’t revise a blank sheet. And it’s true. Your number one job is to write your story. Get something on the page and you’ll make it a masterpiece later.
In the next post, I’ll walk through the different styles of writing. It may help identify your preferred style. Are you an outliner, like me? Can you just sit down and write off the top of your head? Are you a combination of both? And the post after that… Writing your first chapter!
In the meantime, read Marine Schembari’s article and check out the books I mentioned. If you like, find your own resources on novel writing. Read about the craft now because you’re going to be writing in no time!