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So You Wanna Write a Book: Starting It


You probably have great ideas for a book. Maybe one of these ideas keeps popping up in your brain over and over again. It’s calling to you, begging you to release it from its prison and find its way to the outside world. But do you have the patience to foster it? Do you have the motivation to take care of it and not let it meander aimlessly? And last but not least…do you have the strength to let go of it when the time is right and allow it the freedom you feel it deserves? If so, read on.

Creating a story can feel daunting. Staring at a blank page, that little cursor blinking, taunting, daring you to start pounding away on your keyboard and “type something already!” And if you don’t have at least an inkling of what you want to write, there’s that lazy part of you that will tell the eager part of you, “Maybe you’ll feel more like writing tomorrow.”

But that’s not going to work, because there is always another tomorrow. And another. And another. Until all your tomorrows are spent and it’s too late to do anything about it.

So what’s a wannabe writer to do? Choose one (or more) of these tips to get you started.

Start from the middle

Sometimes writing from the very beginning of a story can be tricky because we writers tend to stuff so much “backstory” or “character history” into the first chapter. We want to explain how the character came to being stuck in their predicament. How the world turned from a lush, green paradise to a stony, dead planet. We want to explain who our characters are. Their names. The way they look. The way they speak. What they’re wearing. We want to force feed the reader a whole bunch of nothing because that dang blank page with its cruel cursor was forcing us to do something. And we panicked. And wrote something we wouldn’t even want to show our mothers. So what to do? Jump right into the story. Forget the past that we need to know. Forget telling us who this character is. Just toss us into the most interesting part of your story line and go from there. I guarantee the excitement will keep you typing.

Create an outline

Sometimes it’s enough just to write down all the details you will need to know so the story can unfold. You can write character descriptions. Cut pictures from magazines of what you picture them to look like. Fill in details that will be important to your story (does she carry a gun? What kind? Is he scared of anything? What, and how did this fear come about?). Type up (or write down) what your main character’s goal will be and all the obstacles your character will face when trying to achieve those goals. What obstacles will other characters in your novel come across? How will they solve their dilemmas? Who will help? Who will hinder their attempts? What you will find yourself writing is a rudimentary plot so that you will have an idea of where you’re heading as you write your chapters.

Find a writing prompt

Writing prompts are everywhere. Booksellers have a plethora of these types of books. You can also search for them on line. Or create your own by choosing a picture from a magazine (or off Pinterest, even), and writing about what you see. Create a story around the picture. I facilitate a writer’s group at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore, and I present a writing prompt at the beginning of each meeting. Writer’s groups can be found all over, even online, and many of them also use writing prompts to get the creative gears going. Choose a prompt and just start writing. It may very well turn into your next best seller.

Journal your life

If you can’t think of anything to write, you might want to pick a memory from your distant past and write as much as you can about it. Feel free to fill in forgotten details with what “could have” happened. Or turn that memory into something fictionalized by adding characters, a different environment, or create a new way to look at what happened. (From your mother’s point of view, perhaps. Or why not your pet goldfish?) And if that doesn’t work for you because you’re just not feeling “it,” journal about your day. How did it start out? Did anything unusual happen? Was it the same routine as always? What small moment can you pick out from that day and describe it so that the reader can feel that they were there. This is a great way to discover small details that you hadn’t even thought about, such as the way the break room at work smelled after someone burned popcorn in the microwave.

These are just a few tips to get your started. Obviously, there are so many more. But these should give you a good head start on getting something down on paper. Because once you do that, once you are no longer looking at that screen and it’s blankness, then you will find it become easier and easier to free that idea from captivity. And that is the first step in writing a book. That’s right…a baby step. Next time I’ll discuss how to take that next step towards writing a book. No, it won’t be easy. Yes, it will be satisfying. And yes, you CAN be an author.

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