I know I’ve talked a lot about character in these posts, mostly because my brain tends to kick up characters first and then I have to figure out what sort of trauma I am going to put them through in the course of writing a story. Sometimes the situation comes first, but usually it follows the character.
However whether you have a story you want to tell or a character you want to put through their paces, at some point you will have to start writing.
I know we have talked about that first sentence and how it can loom large over your mind and prevent you from starting. Just remember that the sentence you start with doesn’t have to be the one you wind up using at the end. You have plenty of time to craft a memorable first sentence. While I covered this in a previous post, if you are having trouble getting out of the gate then start by shoving your character into action. Pick a short action sentence and get to writing.
Take something short and just dive in. Set a timer and pretend it is a writing prompt that you chose to focus around your story. At some point you will either fall into your story and go for it or something in your brain will say, ‘That’s not where this story starts’ and the place you really want to start will occur to you.
The thing is that at some point, you just have to write.
I know some of you fly by the seat of your pants and some are planners. Here are a few thoughts to help jump start your way into writing. It is mostly for the planners although some pantsers may find it useful too.
Remember it is not a race.
Never compare yourself to anyone else in writing style or word count. Shakespeare was Shakespeare (or historically could be someone else, but that is another topic) and you are you. Your friend Bob may get 5K words down on the page each day, seven days a week but that doesn’t mean that you have to match or exceed his output. What you do is what you do.
I like to go by time rather than word count when planning. I do that mostly because there are some days where the words just flow and other times they come in fits and starts. Some days a half hour of writing will net me only a few paragraphs and other times a couple of pages. It can be frustrating so I just look at time. As you’ve seen with The Fifteen Minute novel Posts and end of month recaps, even those short bursts of writing can add up.
So sit down with your calendar and look at your schedule. Be honest with yourself. Will your schedule let you take a four hour block to write? Do you need to carve out smaller chunks of time throughout the week instead of one lump? Maybe half an hour before work or half an hour after would suit you better.
While there is a benefit in marking down the same time every day to write and establishing a routine, your schedule might not allow for that. That is okay. Work with what you have. If you know that Tuesdays are just bonkers in your world then maybe that is not a day you need to schedule time to write. If this week you have wall to wall meetings that will turn your brain to mush, acknowledge that and settle your schedule accordingly.
Once you’ve taken a good hard look at that calendar and thought through the details of your schedule, pick up a pen (not a pencil) if you are using a physical calendar or get yourself to a keyboard if using digital. Put the time you have earmarked to write down on your calendar.
I use pen on a physical calendar so that it can’t be erased. Do whatever you have to do to make it look like an important appointment that you can’t miss or that would cause issues if you had to reschedule.
Defend this place on your schedule.
There will always be something that wants to take that time.
It isn’t something optional once you put it on. It isn’t something you can just blow off. Make it a commitment.
Sure things will come up. That’s just life.
What I like to do is utilize a piggy bank. You know how if you cancel your dentist appointment at the last minute they still charge you a small fee for the inconvenience? I use the same thing for my writing time. It I set the writing time on my schedule and miss the appointment with myself, I have to put money in the piggy bank. Admittedly lately it has been a digital piggy bank. Any appointment i miss I transfer a small amount of money from checking into savings as my self-surcharge. If you do this determine what amount you want to transfer or add to the piggy bank and be consistent.
So now you have a schedule and the intent to stick to it.
If you are the sort who uses an outline or just a pile of notes, make sure they are near you before you start. Once you start writing you don’t want to go running around looking for that fabulous thought that occurred to you while you were brushing your teeth and that you put on a post it note somewhere. If you can’t keep your story notes/outline/ random bits out on your desk all the time, have them in a folder that you take out and place beside you just before you start work.
Go to the bathroom. Get a mug of coffee or a bottle of water. Kick off your shoes or change your clothes. Whatever you are going to do, do it before you start your writing time.
Once writing time begins, then you are just writing. If you end up needing to go to the bathroom or refresh your coffee by all means do so, but try to keep your pauses to a minimum.
The big one to watch out for though is the editor derail. There are many places where you will start writing and forget a detail. Did I make his eyes blue or green? Did I give the barista a name or just point out that my character had a crush on her?
In fact I recently had one of those detail snafus with the fifteen minute novel. I was writing and I couldn’t remember if Eric and Mark were James’ half brothers or step brothers. At some point it will matter. During my writing I utilized the highlight key and highlighted step (or half, I can’t remember which I ended up going with) and then when I stopped writing I made a note to check which it was and to determine which one works best with the story.
If you can’t remember the color of the eyes, write something down and underline it or highlight it as something to come back and check on. If you can’t remember if you named the hot barista just put HOT BARISTA in the place where the name would go, mark it for later changes and keep writing.
So often it is the details that trip us up and stop our writing dead. At some point the color of a man’s shirt may be vitally important in catching a murderer or solving a mystery. Other times it is just important for consistency. Either way, that is an editing issue and not a writing one.
And what are we doing now?
That’s right, we are writing.
It is important that you seperate those two, especially in the beginning. Later, when you reach the editing stage you can go back and fix the details, make sure everything is consistent and even realize you put some absolute stinkers in your dialogue that really need to be addressed so your characters sound like actual people and not like dolls you moved around. You will do all that and more when you reach the editing stage.
And that too will be scheduled. Once you’ve finished writing whatever you are working on, you will need to set it aside for two weeks before looking at it so that you can see it properly again. During that time you can look at your schedule and begin to pen in some editing time.
I know some of you are planners and some aren’t. For those of you who are planners, I hope this serves as a short way to jump start the actual writing of whatever story you want to tell. Just remember it isn’t the length of time you write that matters, it is the fact that you are writing that counts.