You have been putting off starting your novel, play, poetry collection, or screenplay for years, and now you are ready to take the plunge. You have a great idea, and you are sure it will sell. You’ve done your research, and you are ready to write, but just where do you start?
Writing is not hard as long as you follow these steps:
- Find Your Niche or Genre.
- Set a Schedule.
- Plot Your Storyline.
- Gag Your Inner Critic.
- Show Up and Write.
The empty screen can be daunting, and it’s not always easy to get down that first line. However, there are ways to set the scene for your novel or story, and here’s where to start.
1. Find Your Niche or Genre
Before you embark on your illustrious writing career, you should take the time to isolate which genre best suits your writing style.
Chances are, if you intend to write, you will be an avid reader, so you should have a look at your bookshelves and see what kind of literature dominates your collection.
Often what you most gravitate towards as a reader is the genre you are most suited to write.
What you read most usually gives you a passive knowledge of structure and tone, which you can draw upon when you begin to write.
Also, if you plan to become a professional writer, choosing a genre will make your book easier to market and sell.
It also gives you an idea of who your intended readership will be if and when your novel or short story is published.
It’s a sad reality that well-written books sometimes flounder when it comes to publishing and sales if they straddle genres or do not fit neatly into a given market.
2. Set Your Schedule
It would be a blessing to become a career writer and work the traditional 9-5 workdays.
The reality is that until you pen your first break-out bestseller, you will need to create time in your busy life to sit down and write.
Waking up an hour or two earlier than usual is great if you can manage it, or put some time aside in the early hours when the world is quieter, or your children are asleep.
Once you set your schedule, you need to stick to it.
The world will do its best to pull you away from your keyboard, so you need to get serious about your allocated writing times.
You’ll need to explain how important your scheduled writing time is to your friends and family and enlist their support.
You will probably need to make some tough choices to follow your dream, and you will miss out on together time with significant others and friends.
Balance your writing times with socializing times so that you don’t take on too much and exhaust yourself and alienate your loved ones.
After all, being in the world and away from your keyboard may bring fresh inspiration and ideas.
3. Take Time To Plot Your Story
Despite what the pantsers tell you, most successful authors in every genre take time to plot their novels before they begin.
Pantsers are those who “write by the seat of their pants” without care for plotting their writing.
There are a number of successful pansters out there and I take my hat off to them, but most successful writers take care to plot out their story before they hit the keypad.
Plotting eliminates much of the stress of writing in the dark and prevents you from running off the rails and landing up in a twisted wreck of words.
Plotting a novel beforehand also allows you to create backstories for your characters, making them more engaging and believable.
Contrary to what pansters believe, structuring your novel before you write need not be restrictive.
Structures and plotlines are there to guide, not confine you, and if your story opens up new directions, your plotline can be malleable to your needs.
These books are a great help in setting up your story structure, and they are available on Amazon.com for you to peruse:
- James Scott Bell: Plot and Structure: James Scott Bells’ “Plot and Structure” offers a wealth of information on creating a strong narrative. The book includes writing exercises, techniques, and essential tools for building your story writing skills.
- John Truby: The Anatomy of Story: Truby offers an immensely engaging glimpse into storytelling using a blend of philosophy, mythology, and his own wide experience as a successful screenwriter. This book is a great resource for learning to build a multifaceted narrative.
- K.M. Weiland: Structuring Your Novel: Weiland offers readers a concise understanding of proper story and scene structure for writers and novelists. Weiland also offers great advice for pacing, progression, and timing your story events.
- The Paris Review: Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story: Object lessons use the short story form to give insight into the workings of great writers. The in-depth study of literary devices and techniques is immensely informative and engaging.
- William Zinsser: On Writing Well: Zinsser’s classic book has been long hailed as one of the definitive guides on the fundamentals of writing for those in any writing field.
- Christopher Vogler: The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers: Vogler gives an in-depth glimpse of how myth influences storytelling and it is a valuable resource to not only writers but screenwriters as well.
4. Gag and Bind That Inner Critic
The greatest obstacle to a fledgling writer’s success is not the outside world or lack of time or money, but rather themselves. There is an ocean of beautifully written and enduring novels out there. It can be a lot to measure up to when you set fingers to the keyboard.
Your inner critic waits for you to focus on the blank screen with bated breath, and you will hear them loud and clear:
“You call this writing?“
“This is utter crap; people will think you are a halfwit fool!“
“Stop pretending you can write!“
The problem with your inner critic is that they are insatiable and leaves no space for your muse to shine through.
You must learn to manage your perfectionism and self-doubt and allow your first draft to be bad.
Bad writing can be polished and transformed into shining gold, but a blank page remains just that.
After all, many of the genius novels that you adore are the end product of several rewrites that the authors have created from several not-so-great drafts.
Allow yourself free reign to write without editing for your initial drafts.
You will be surprised what subconscious gems arise when you write in a stream of consciousness flow.
Your writing mistakes teach you more about the craft of writing than your successes.
So gag that inner critic and let your fingers flow.
There will be a time when you need the critic when you edit, but gag him Pulp Fiction style when you are creating worlds.
5. Show Up and Write
I am sometimes reminded of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem about writing where he states:
“Constantly risking absurdity
whenever he performs
above the heads
of his audience…”
It can sometimes feel that way when you start to write, like every word you set down is an acrobatic act of sheer bravery.
But if you are serious about writing, you have to show up and write.
There is no mastering the craft of writing without setting fingers to the keyboard and writing and writing some more.
If your nerves get the better of you and you feel blocked, just write a couple of pages about whatever enters your mind.
You will be surprised at some of the gems you might find hidden in this unselfconscious outpouring of your mind.
If you have set your schedule, sit down and write for your allocated time.
If your story feels like a cinder block around your neck, write poetry, write down your dreams, memories, and experiences.
Showing up and writing is the key to your success.
Writing is like learning a musical instrument. At first, you may get discouraged that your notes are off-key.
Practice ensures that you will keep getting better until you hardly notice where your fingers are positioned.
However, it takes dedication and sacrifice to succeed as a writer and prepare to put in the hours. Now get to your keyboard and write!