08 February, 2012
Just Write: Where to Begin
"Reduce your plan to writing. The moment you complete this, you will have definitely given concrete form to the intangible desire." ~Napoleon Hill
In the past few weeks, I've had a surprising number of conversations with aspiring writers, including those who have dedicated their lives to avoiding a pen and paper like they were the plague. The interesting thing about these conversations is that they always start with the same theme:
"I want to try this writing thing, but...where do I start?"
"All of these ideas keep swirling around in my head. I want to write them down but I don't know how."
"I've decided to start writing that short story I've been mulling over for years. I've got all the character names picked out and I know what they'll be doing in the story. Where do I start?"
Well, first, you might want to try, I don't know, writing it down.
Now, this eloquent and completely sympathetic writing advice does not have its origins in my own brain, much as I'd like it to. I don't think it can even be accurately said to be the property of all the many wonderful authors, speakers, and professional writers who have used this phrase.
It's common sense.
Common sense - and our own intuition - have been drowned out by the many helpful books published on the writing craft and the plethora of advice waiting when you type "how to write" into a search engine. Don't get me wrong - I love writing books, as evidenced by the bowing shelf in my closet. I wouldn't have gotten as far as I have without some much needed advice and tutelage by those who have gone before. They are necessary and very, very useful for expanding your knowledge and your craft.
But, when you're just starting out, all of that doesn't matter. It's a scary enough process without having to check The Writing List to make sure you did it all "right." I had no list when I wrote my first story. I was fourteen. The story was five pages long. It was bad. But I still have it because simply putting those words on paper sparked that inner fire.
Right now, for you, there is no right or wrong. There is only the words that you want to express. Write them down. Misspell. Have no plot. Rename your main character five times in the course of three pages. But be sure to write.
And if you contract the plague from daring to put ink to paper, I'll give you a private tap dance show. Which should be interesting. Because I don't tap dance.
My favorite books on writing
(Recommended especially for beginners and established writers looking for good reminders.)
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
On Writing by Stephen King
Writing Fiction by Gotham Writer's Workshop
Fiction Writing Demystified by Thomas B. Sawyer
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
Write Good or Die by Scott Nicholson
To all the writers reading this: sound off on your own favorite how-to books - I'd love to hear about more books I can add to that sagging shelf!