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!


  1. Although it is a genre specific title, Philip Pathans "The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction" has proven invaluable to me over the past couple months. And don't be put off by the title: it is chock-full of writing tips that are applicable to any fiction genre.

    But by and large my favorite is "The Writer's Journey" by Christopher Vogler.

    1. I've heard of the second, but not of the first. I stayed away from genre-specific titles in my post but my all-time favorite has to be Orson Scott Card's "How To Write Science Fiction & Fantasy." Absolutely in love with that poor, marked-up book.

      Thanks for the suggestions. I'll add them to my reading list.

  2. I couldn't agree more. I'm so happy I didn't know any writing rules before I completed my first manuscript. I needed to learn them after to get where I am now, but there is nothing like those first years of writing when no imaginary editors are haunting you and telling you that you can't write that cause the rules say you can't. I say, write a book first. Write it from your heart and let the words flow. Find yourself through your story. And then learn the rules. And either apply them to your first book with massive edits or shelve that one as a learning experience and apply the rules to your second book. You have to write to get better. No amount of workshops or writing books will make you a great writer. Only writing will do that. Thanks for sharing this and stopping by my blogiversary party! :)

  3. Wonderful post, and truly sage advice. Just write. Sit down and write. That's the only way to get a story down :) The first book on writing I ever purchased was 'Chapter after Chapter' by Heather Sellers. Highly recommended!!


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