So many writers get stuck at the very start. They simply cannot get off the starting block. Either they get stuck with the very idea of their book, continually thinking about writing, plotting and planning, but not able to actually sit down and write the book. Or they do actually start the book and then just can’t get beyond the first few chapters (or few thousand words).
So here are my tips to avoid getting stuck before you even start:
TIP 1: Start hard and fast and don’t stop
Writers agonise over the first few chapters, trying to perfect and refine them, polish and buff them. Forget it. If you do this, you will never finish. But also, you are going to change them in a rewrite.
The worst culprits are self-editors. Because you want to go back and fix or improve everything you write. This is your Achilles Heel that can stop you ever completing a book. That is why I have a rule in the 100 Day Challenge that you are not allowed to go back over your previous day’s work. Move on. You need to be very strict with yourself. Use a note that you stick up at your desk that says ‘I move forward. I do not look back’
Once you have completed your MS you are going to want to change the start. Your writing will be better, sharper and more focused because you will know your character intimately by then. You will know your story intimately by then and you will want to change your start to reflect an aspect that only emerged later. In fact, most often you will end up actually cutting these first few chapters and starting much later in the story.
TIP 2: Limit yourself
It can be really daunting to write 80,000 words. You don’t really know where to start. Your plot feels like it’s a thumbsuck. In fact, your entire book feels like a bit of a thumbsuck. And 80,000 words sure sounds like a lot. So what do you do? You put everything in so that you can fill up your book. You fill it with people and things and ideas and scenes.
But you can’t put everything into a book.
You may put in too many characters, too many scenes or too many themes. You may have put in too many subplots, or you may have used too many points of view.
You may forget that books are quite single-minded. They can meander all over the place, but they need to be true to the story.
Most of the scenes will be in your lead character’s point of view. Some may be in your antagonist’s voice. Then perhaps you have another POV character related to a subplot.
You may find that you have simply put so much in, that you have lost your story. If this is the case, take some of your subplots and save them for another book.
It is hard work writing a book.
If I had a rand for every writer who has an idea of a book I would be very wealthy. Having an idea is the easy part. But then you need to do the work. You need to sit down and work out a plot. You need to work on your characters and their motivations and personalities. You need to find pace and structure to tell your story. Then you need to sit down and do the gruelling work of actually writing a long, long book. Writing 80,000 words is an exercise in perseverance, and stamina. It is a marathon and not a sprint. It is even more gruelling to take your book and re-read it, edit it, refine it, rewrite it. Edit it again. Get feedback. Rewrite some more.
I admire anyone who completes a book - regardless of whether it is ever published or not.
But let's just take one step at a time and get you STARTED writing
Sarah Bullen is a writing coach, agent and book editor. She is a structure fanatic and coaches writers on how to write and get published.