Writing Your Book – Part 2 – How Do I Start

Congratulations! You’ve decided to go for it, to put in the daily time to actually make that book happen. You’ve carved an hour or maybe even two out of your busy schedule, cleared your home office space of all those little chores that are going to get in the way of your project, and now you’re booted up with a blank page staring at you. The obvious question is, “How do I begin?”

Every word and sentence in your book is going to be important, but perhaps the most gripping should be that first sentence. There are immortal ones. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick comes to mind. “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.” There are others. Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, and the list goes on. They, and a host of others raised the bar. You may not reach it, but whatever you choose, make it a zinger. You can write the world’s next great novel, but if your first chapter drags, you’re not going to sell your book. Think long and hard over those first words, and then go for it.

Now to the mechanics of how to bang out that awesome plot line you’ve thought about for months, if not years. There are two basic types of writers, Pantsers, and Plotters, and though I have nothing to back up my theory, I suspect most folks who take up the challenge of the pen are a combination. Plotters plan and outline every chapter. Pantsers “fly by the seat of their pants,” meaning they plan little or nothing before starting to write. I’m an inveterate pantser. If my protagonist doesn’t talk to me, I have nothing to write. It’s the only thing I know, and so really that’s the only side I can address. When I sit down to write a new novel, I have no clue where the characters will take me, which means I’m baffled as to where the plot is going in the next chapter, never mind how I will draw all the threads to a satisfying conclusion. Okay, that may sound a bit hokey, but if you have strong characters they will speak their piece, and all you need to do is write it down. That sounds easy. Sometimes it is, but be careful. The Pantser method of listening to your characters can lead you into horrible box canyons where there’s no possibility of escape. What that means is that you may have to rewrite whole chapters to make the plot flow.

So now you’re off. You’re a Pantser. You’ve never been one to play it safe. No laborious outlines or chapter synopses for you. Your fingers almost tremble with the desire to put on paper what is already on the tip of your tongue. Awesome. You’re away. Punch out that second sentence, but before you do, please forget everything I just said about the first sentence, because from here until you type that last word in your novel, the rules change. Write that story as fast as your fingers can type. Sentence structure? Not important. Word choice? Deal with it later. Spelling and punctuation? Who cares? For the duration, you’re not going to give a rip what your text looks like. The only thing of importance is to get that story in your head onto paper as fast as you can punch the keys, which means you’ll need every bit of that time you’ve slotted into your schedule. There will be days when you won’t want to stop, because you will begin to realize that continuity is essential. Later, when you’re editing, your manuscript, that sacred block of time is not nearly as important. A half-hour here or there will often suffice, but now you need the time to make the flow happen. You need uninterrupted hours to hear the story, either from the characters, or if you’re a plotter, to write from your outline. There is no other option. The only word of caution I would give as you hammer out that story is some advice I heard years ago. “Though real life doesn’t have to make sense, fiction does. It has to be believable. Those words are not only for Science fiction writers. Your plot, characters, and scenes must be believable if you want readers to keep turning the pages.”

Let me close with a quote from journalist Gene Fowler. “Writing is easy. All you have to do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” So be warned. Writing may be a labor of love, but like everything in life worth having, it will require fortitude and tenacity, but you have that. Write on, my friend. Reach for the stars!

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