Sunday, March 18, 2012

How Do I Start?

Over on the Facebook page for my novel, Altar of Dead Pets, one of my friends asked how to get get started writing. She's got an idea for a story but she's never written anything before. Here's what I told her:

Just do what all writers do, start putting words on paper (what ever from paper takes these days). I wouldn't worry about form at this point. What really matters is taking time to get the words down in whatever way they want to come. If it seems like too big a task, you can start small. Take fifteen minutes a day and just write stream of consciousness and see what shows up and what form it starts to take. You may find characters showing up. You may find the story you want to tell taking off in an unexpected direction. 

Altar started out with a freewrite (timed stream of consciousness writing) on the word "choice." The narrator's voice showed up in the first sentence I wrote: "School shrink says everything's a choice and I think he's full of it 'cause what about some fool ass kid who sticks his head out a car window? Should have been the easiest choice in the world, keeping himself in that car with the pot and the JD. But no, my brother sticks his head out that window and gets himself killed." Seriously, I remember it that vividly. But the important thing is that I went with what showed up on the page, said yes to what arrived and kept saying yes as the story developed.

If you've paid even a small amount of attention as you've read other novels, you know, instinctively, the shape a novel needs to take. Most of writing is just getting out of your way and letting the story and the characters take over, especially in the first draft, which is all you should be thinking about right now. Just getting the story down. Shaping it, making it look like a novel - that's all for the second draft.

But first steps first. Get yourself writing 15 minutes each day and see what shows up. Don't worry about it for the first couple of weeks, just let whatever happens on the page happen and say yes to wherever it goes. It may not have continuity from one day to the next, that's fine. The important thing is showing up so the story knows where to find you - think of it as if you're having coffee with a new friend. Your friend has to know where to find you. And then, whatever your new friend asks, you say yes and keep on saying yes.

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