Okay. We all know it doesn’t come down to simply writing your story. There is much that goes into the process – including pre-draft preparation. Some may even argue it’s the most important step. But this isn’t about that.
Writing isn’t just for the people who aspire to be published and its more than these who have a tale to share. With many aspiring writers the most difficult step to writing is simply getting the first draft down on paper (or document if you are the digital type.) Scratch that, the hardest part is writing. At all.
Now for me, that has always been easy. Perhaps it is because I began writing at an age at which I was undaunted by most tasks. Yet for so many others I’ve met – be it acquaintances, friends, or even my sibling – they’ve always talked about writing. Intended to write. Did tons of planning, brainstorming, and world-building except for writing the actual story. It’s like planning on a trip to Aulani that never falls through (my sister and me) yet this is an exceptionally easier undertaking. All it requires is something to write with and a bit of time to do it – practically free.
Here are some comprehensible points:
It’s that simple, and here’s why
It won’t be perfect. Ignore it. Refer to the above.
It’s not about getting it as close to perfect as possible when you are writing the first draft. You aren’t going to. And lingering on wording, sentence structure, and all those literary factors are just going to slow you down and kill the fire, the moment, your flow. The point is just getting it down. Normally, research and the like is done previously so if you can’t think of what desert nomads ate during their long treks, don’t worry about it, you can go back and fix that later. For now, just start writing without inhibitions. Pick it up after a couple weeks and edit or rewrite. The great thing is that you have the dialogue or events written and ready to work with.
It doesn’t have to be a premeditated story or even the beginning of the story. Write whatever comes to mind, where ever the inspiration brings you to. If you come to stare at an empty page and your mind goes blank as the paper, then try a prompt. There are plenty of free prompts you can find online. I like to follow a Google+ page called Best Daily Prompts (though I’ve yet to use it). Or you can try a “what if” question – something I picked up from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft when it was a part of my course curriculum in high school. Try some short stories, it’s a great way to learn how to build a novel or even a chapter. Don’t value short stories? George R. R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire, says that jumping into a novel-length story is “like starting in at rock climbing by tackling Mt. Everest. Short stories help you learn your craft. They are a good place for you to make the mistakes that every beginning writer is going to make.”
Jot down ideas when you can.
When I don’t have the time to write at the moment of inspiration, I write what I like to call “sketches.” These are sometimes just dialogue, summaries, or excerpts. It may drastically change but there is nothing as pure as that moment that an idea, scene, or conversation comes to mind.
Write for the sake of writing.
Get your practice in, whenever you can. “No excellence in [anything] is to be acquired without constant practice.” so says Lady Catherine De Bourgh of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Sure, simply writing isn’t enough to learn how to write well (though it will improve) but it does condition your brain and you will have more flow and less difficulty. Also, what I have found over the years is that writing has helped me analyze the books and stories of others. These skills are essential if you want to gain the ability to tell the story as best as it deserves.
You should strive to write a little every day, even a simple paragraph. “One word at a time,” says King. In this step, you are building habit. However, nothing should be done in excess – it may well burn out your drive and ruin you for ever writing again. Reading – anything – is a great thing to do on a break. I won’t go on about the merits of reading but all the same, it an all around plus. Of course, if you want to write, I hope you enjoy reading. However books aren’t the only things you can analyze, you can easily take movies and songs and break them up into analytical aspects. Look at plot, themes, denouements, foreshadowing etc. Or in the case of music, it may at times lack a clear story however they are often full of similes, symbolism, and all that jazz. (No pun intended.) You can find food for story in nearly anything. But we are talking about breaks here and evaluating the world as it pertains to world-building or telling a story isn’t exactly a reprieve so remember to just enjoy whatever you do.
Shoot for the moon.
Try joining a challenge. It may be the ignition for a long adventure through storytelling. November is National Novel Writing Month and the site will challenge you to write 50,000 words in a month (that’s a novella). They also have two “summer events” – this year being in April and July and you can set your own wordcount goal. May is National Short Story Month – join the celebration. Or, make your own challenge, resolution, or goal. Tell yourself whatever you need to be motivated. A different angle of the NaNoWriMo challenge is simply planning the amount of words you write a day. If you don’t meet your quota, know that you made a huge step by just beginning. As soon as you tell yourself that you can’t, you have already impeded your own possibilities.
This is something friends and peers ask me about, how to stay focused. And there is no right way; some people prefer the quiet, others can’t think straight without background noise. Try locking yourself in a room or place where there are no distractions. No TV, no video games, just you and the tools you use to write. Turn off your internet, pretend it doesn’t exist. Put your phone on an “emergencies only” setting. Try some music, I recommend instrumental. Movie scores might help you get into the mood that the scene takes place in. I don’t recommend lyrical music because you might end up focusing on the lyrics or your brain may have associated it to something else that has little to do with what you are writing.
Refer to the first point.
Just start writing. You could have read all the books, built the foundation for an epic, or uncovered a remarkable theme, but it won’t go anywhere until you write. This is the first step – take a leap and enjoy it.
~C. L. Mac
Books mentioned on Goodreads:
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen