I’ve seen so many people asking this same question in a variety of different ways that I honestly found myself tired of seeing the question and giving my answer over and over and over again. Just recently I’ve been making attempts (however feeble) at being more social with my online presence. I’m not really into hashtagging and tweeting so I thought I’d do something that would be a bit more personal; Reddit.
I know there are those who believe Reddit is not exactly the place to find the most pleasant of people. I can’t say I disagree with that statement. However, every once in a while there is the odd number of fellow reddit users who are genuinely looking for assistance with their writing and although I am no expert by any means on the subject, I offer up my thoughts however I can. Hence, why I am writing this post. I think in the last week or so since I’ve been giving my thoughts on the /r/writing subreddit I’ve seen nearly 50 posts where people are asking the same thing:
Where do I begin? How do I start? HELP!
If you’re reading this from the /r/writing reddit you may have seen my answer to this on a few people’s posts and for the repetitiveness of it, I apologize. But I find the question to be one that is not only asked in ad-nauseum on reddit, but in other places as well. I’m not against the question, nor do I mind asking it, I just want to put my answer someplace where I can simply tell people “here are my thoughts” and not have to regurgitate them every time.
To start, no two writers are the same. Let me repeat that in case you missed it: NO TWO WRITERS ARE THE SAME! I like to start there because while many want to know where to begin mostly because they are new to this crazy little world of writing, they do so expecting to follow the formula of King or Martin or Sanderson or whoever they read. I just want to make it known, and it’s a fact, that no two writers are the same. Yes, there are various articles and books written expounding upon how “they did it and you can, too” but honestly, don’t fool yourself into believing it’s THAT simple. Just read that book, follow those steps, and BOOM, you’re a bestseller overnight. Those authors all put a lot of work into not just the very method of writing but THEIR OWN unique way of doing it. It’s THEIR style though. You may try to emulate it, copy it, repeat the process over and over again, but there is a reason their style works for them. Just like there is a method to my madness you need to develop a method for your own.
Yes, we all, eventually, commit words to paper or the computer screen, but how we get there and how we sustain the urge to keep going is different for each and every person. So, ask yourself these important questions which may seem totally out of context from your original question of “how do I begin?” but trust me, once you can answer them, you’ll see just how closely related they are:
What inspires/inspired you to write?
If you could do anything in the world (during your free time) that isn’t writing, what would it be?
What books have you read that made you say “I want to write something like that”? What authors/books are in the genre/style you want your story to be in?
How far have you gotten in the “story” idea you have? Just characters or have you got the plot as well?
Okay, have you answered all of those questions? If not, go ahead and do so. Copy/paste them into a blank document somewhere or write them up on a piece of paper. Go ahead. I’ll wait…
I want you to take your answers to those questions, specifically the ones about books you’ve read and authors you’ve read within the genre you want to write in and now I want you to do some homework. OH NO, NOT HOMEWORK! Yes, homework! I want you to revisit those books/authors and reread JUST the first few chapters of one or two books. Make note of how they start? Who they start with? The setting? The atmosphere? Are they written in past or present? 1st person or 3rd person? Instead of reading for pleasure, take a moment and see the story through the lens of the future writer you intend to be.
Now, go back to your story. The one you just NEED to write. The one you’ve plotted but just can’t seem to figure out how to start or where to begin, and start it. But don’t just start it, do it the way those books you read did it. Copy the scenes and characters if it helps. This is an exercise, not the real thing. This is just for you to test the waters. See how the process of just writing fits on you.
The only bit of advice I’ll give you for how I like to start my own personal books is to start in the middle of a conflict or just before one is about to happen. It doesn’t have to be cannons firing (although that’s exactly where mine starts…) or an all-out war, but there should be “something” happening to or around someone that sets the tone for the rest of the story and almost encapsulates what the goal is for your main character. My first book starts with the literal firing of a cannon, but my second book isn’t as action-packed and just starts with a nightmare scene.
At the end of the day, just make sure you enjoy what you’re writing. It’s grueling work. Agonizing and sometimes even depressing work, but I always enjoy doing it. The moment I stop enjoying the sheer dread of it all is the moment I stop writing.