Ah, the excitement of beginning a new writing project. The energy! The enthusiasm! The high hopes! This, you think, is going to be the best novel yet, the best essay, the best short story, the best article. You whip open your computer, open a new file, place you hands on the keyboard and….sit staring at the monitor. The idea and the energy that swirled around it has dissipated. Crap. That’s when you decide the kitchen floor needs mopping or the chocolate in the cupboard needs eating. Or the couch needs you to take a nap on it.
The description above is often me. I am a big picture person and I love dreaming up new ideas. Oh, the plans I have for novels, classes, non-fiction books, and programs scribbled in my journal. And yet few of them see the light of day. Part of that is because, well, time. There isn’t enough of it to do everything I want to do. But part of it also is because its easy to scrawl some notes on a page and much harder to actually take those notes and shape them into something. Like a book.
But I have learned a thing or two about getting started over the years of writing several novels, a few short stories, numerous articles and ten years worth of blog posts. And so herewith, I offer you a few ideas:
- Take the time to do some prep work. It can be so thrilling to be in the thrall of a new idea for a writing project that you launch right into the writing. And yeah, then about a few chapters in you get stalled because you have no idea what you’re doing. I’m all for getting words on the page, but I do find it helpful to know at least some things about your story before you begin. Things like characters, setting, theme (okay, that one often takes awhile to gel), and at least a vague idea of where the story is going to go. By the by, last year I taught Mapping the Novel at the Sitka Center and I’m seriously considering teaching it online later this year. Email me if you’re interested and I’ll make sure you get info about it.
- Know your genre. Are you writing a romance, or a mystery or women’s fiction? Maybe a thriller? There are certain conventions for each one that it behooves you to know. And beyond that, knowing these conventions can help you when you’re trying to figure out the steps of the story. In a romance, for instance, the hero and heroine have to meet. (Duh.) But that’s one of your most important scenes, right there! All you have to do is figure out the details.
- Do some free writing. I know, I know, I told you not to jump right onto the page. But free writing is different. It is writing about your project, brainstorming on the page. I could not write anything without this process. I write morning pages just about every day, and often they are devoted to figuring out the intricacies of whatever I’m working on.
- Expand your input. Try some alternative approaches. For instance, I’m reading a fabulous book called The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide for an Inspired Life. It is all geared toward using tarot cards for your creativity, i.e. your next writing project. Author Jessa Crispin has designed spreads for finding inspiration, checking your direction, being blocked, and all kinds of things. Fun! And helpful. You might also try looking up your character’s birth date on an astrological chart for more insight, or research your setting on Google images or Google earth.
- Use the power of lists. I can’t live without my lists, and I use them voraciously with my WIPs. Often my plot outline is a simple list of upcoming scenes, but that’s enough to guide me. I make lists for what’s going to happen in a chapter or scene to clarify before I start writing. And I make lists of things to remember. Constantly. There are a lot of moving parts to a novel.
Those are some of the ideas that help me. What works for you? Leave a comment!
And don’t forget that I’m offering free connection calls this month. Let’s chat about writing! You can sign up here.
Photo by David Paul Ohmer.