Monday, December 17, 2012

Birth of a Novel: Staring down the bull

We've all been there. Anyone who's ever endeavored to write knows that the hardest part is that blank computer screen (or page, if you still kick it old school). Those first words could make or break the book right? Not really, but it feels like it, doesn't it?

In my experience, it's much easier to get started if I don't stare at a blank screen. I break up my outline into what I think will be chapter size bites and create sections with pieces of the outline and some notes I've developed for each scene. This way, I'm not looking into the gaping maw of nothingness, desperate to make it into something.

I also don't write in order. Now, I know there are some authors for whom this is just not an option, but often I will write the end first. Then I'll work on a few bits in the middle and then I'll get around to writing the opening scene of the book. Granted, I don't always do it this way. Sometimes the opening scene will hit me like a bolt of lightning and then I build the rest of the book around it.

In PINCH OF THIS, I did write the first chapter first. I was struck by an image of a couple at their anniversary dinner, not much to say to one another and really not feeling like there was much to celebrate. I could feel the tension so thick you could cut it with a knife. I could see the furtive glances and both of them pushing their food around on their plates, but not eating much. This imagery was really vivid for me so I went with it. The very next day, I wrote the ending. Now I've just got to weave together everything in between.

My point is this: don't worry so much about getting the first chapter under your belt, just focus on being productive. After all, two thousand words is two thousand words, even if they aren't all part of the same chapter. The book will eventually come together as a finished project just like a patchwork quilt.

If, however, you feel the need to crochet an afghan, working one row at a time in sequential order, don't give up if that next sentence doesn't readily present itself. Talk things out, pretend you are your character and imagine what you'd do next in the same situation. Phone a friend! Or take a *short* break. And by short I mean minutes, not days :)  No cat-vacuuming allowed.

What's important is that you set and meet realistic production goals. Though I often do more, I keep the 2000 word mark in my head. If I write that much, I'm happy. If once in a while I fail, but gave it the old college try, that's okay too. The important thing is that you continue to approach the bull, everyday if possible. Even if the word count you produce that day is terrible, it's better to have terrible words you can fix when you self-edit than no words at all. The quickest way to fail at writing a novel is to stop writing--it's guaranteed you won't finish then.

Next time, I'll talk about how to tell if what you are writing is any good ('s a doesn't matter if it is or least not yet.)



stormiekent said...

I needed this post. I've been stuck at the beginning, analyzing everything too much. You reminded me that I always end up rewriting the beginning anyway. Just get started. Great post.

Jess @UsedYorkCity said...

The blank screen is always intimidating, but as long as you get those words out, you can always go and reshape or delate later! As you said...give it the old college try;-)

Cindy Jacks said...

So glad I could help, Stormie! I know writing can be tough lonely work, but just keep plugging away :)

Cindy Jacks said...

Very true, Jess. It can be hard to stare at a blank screen. I avoid it at all costs, lol :)

Jacqueline said...

2000 words is a good daily number for me. I can do it easily, if the story is flowing and no-one interrupts!
When the story is not flowing, I make do with less but always try to get something down. I would rather re-work 1000 no-very-good words than wait for the day when I might manage the perfect words at first attempt.