There are three really tough parts to any writing project.
– The beginning
– The middle
– The end.
Yea, yea, I know that’s pretty much the whole of it. Each part is difficult in their own way, and getting over it is required if you plan to be a professional writer. Actually, you’ll have to get over all three if you want to write for anyone other than yourself. (If you are writing for yourself and you want to skip any one of these, go right ahead.)
So let’s look at these one at a time over the next few days.
The trouble with beginnings is that you have all the potential and no structure yet. When your story is just an idea it is beautiful and perfect. Everyone who has access to it gets it completely and there are no misunderstandings. The problem is that as long as it is just an idea you are the only one who can enjoy it. That’s not so good for sales at the very least. So you are going to have to write it down if you want other people to read it.
So there you are with the shiny new perfect idea. All you have to do is write it down, that’s not so hard is it? There are several trouble areas when it comes to getting started. 1) Do you have the time? 2) Where do you start? 3) Getting it just right. 4) Losing the shine.
Starting with number 4 this time. Many people find that losing the shine is the biggest issue with starting a story. When it’s just an idea, your story is all nice and shiny just like that bike you wanted for Christmas as a kid. But then just like that bike, once you start you scuff it up a bit. That’s what bikes are for. You ride them, do tricks on them, scare the living daylights out of your parents with them and in the process they pick of the marks of all that fun. If you want to keep your bike all nice and shiny you have to park it in the garage or better yet your room, with protective covers over it. What’s the fun in that? Stories are just the same. They start out all nice and shiny, but when you take them out for a spin they are going to lose some of that luster. What you don’t notice so much, is that they are picking up character with each new scuff mark. All those scuff marks are they way that you know that you were having fun, just like that bike. You could sit with your friends at the end of summer and remember all the things you did from the marks they left on your bike. That’s true with your story. At the end of the process you’ll sit back with your characters and say “remember when I thought you were going fly right off that cliff?”
Reason 3) is similar. When your story is that perfect idea, you want to maintain that perfection. If you don’t get the start just right, how will the story proceed to the perfection that you know it should be? I’ve seen writers agonize of the first line of a story longer than it took them to write the rest of it. Now I don’t want to suggest that opening lines aren’t important, but really they are a problem to tackle during editing. When you are writing, you don’t know how exactly your story is going to end, so you can’t know what the perfect first line will be. Even the most stringent of outliners will be surprised by something as they actually write the book. So don’t worry about that opening line, paragraph, chapter. Just get something down and move on – you can come back and polish the opening once you know where it’s taking you.
Reason 2) is the one that usually trips me up. Where do you start? That idea that will become the story is a mass of back story and story. Sorting the two out is a like trying to figure out the ball of yarn after the kitten has had her fun. The back story is there because it’s part of the story, it’s just the part that you don’t tell directly. So do you start the story when the kid is already at the corner store or do you need to write about Mom reminding him to be careful? Or maybe you start when the cops have already gotten there. Separating the story from the back story is a hard one. What I’ve learned is that you just have to start somewhere. If you missed, you can edit it to the right place. Much like reason 3, you just have to get something down the first time through, you can always come back and edit it later.
Reason 1) is the outlier in this set of reasons. While all the rest are about the actual writing, this one is more fundamental, and generally applies to those newer to writing. Veterans have the time carved out of their schedules already, so they would just add the new project to the time a completed project has vacated. The myth is that you can find time. That is not going to happen. If you wait for the time to just magically appear, you’ll wait until your shiny story idea has tarnished without a single word being written. You have to make the time. You have to decide that writing the story is more important than the next episode of Dancing with the Stars. You might even have to put down that wonderful book you were reading and spend the time creating something for other people to read. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, it just has to be specific times that you tell the world you are going to ignore the dishes for an hour. Then it’s up to you to hold to that schedule. Keep it regular enough and be sure to have a new project when this one is done and this problem will go away all on it’s own.
Stay tuned for dealing with the Middle and the End.