Writing is like my abusive husband. When it’s good, it’s great. Then it beats me up and works me over, leaving me a little broken. And I think about quitting it, leaving it behind and never looking back. Then it crawls back to me, sorry, promising never to hurt me again. And I believe it every time. I always take it back. Because I can’t live without writing. I breathe it. When I’m not doing it, I’m thinking about it. There’s no twelve step program that could cure my addiction. There’s nothing you could threaten me with that would make me stop doing it.
And that’s how I know I’m a real writer.
A friend of mine came to me with a story idea she had and no idea where to start. It was a really cool idea. Very cool in fact. One I wished I’d come up with. She’s a wicked smart woman, well read, and if anyone could write, I’m sure she could. But when she asked me where to start, I wanted to tell her to run far, far away. To fold up her idea, light it with a match, and release the ashes into the Aether. Because you can’t be a casual writer. I know there are people out there who have über busy lives and write in their spare time, but I guarantee that those people write in EVERY spare moment. It’s not like watching TV. You can’t just skip an episode because you’re tired. I’ve said it before, writers must be writers to their bones. And I wanted to tell her, as a writing junkie, to stop before she begins, because while the highs are so glorious, the lows can be brutal. But I didn’t. I told her how to begin. I practically handed her the needle…I mean pen.
And that’s when I realized that writing advice is 99% crap. I was trying to tell her how to begin, and I started looking at my own beginnings, only to come to the conclusion that I’m an idiot. My newest project went through no less than a dozen first chapter incarnations before I finally threw it all up in the air, got a new main character, sat down with my trusty fountain pen and moleskin, and wrote it out. Heck, in one incarnation I even tried to stylistically mirror an author I admire, just to see what would happen. It was pretty laughable.
I did my best though. I told her to create some characters in her world (since she’d developed the world so well) and to see what conflicts might arise from them. To think about what she wanted to say and how she wanted to say it. To write some of it and see what happens. Once I’ve discovered what I want to write about, I usually just dive right into the writing because that’s when I start to see what the subplots are and who the B characters are. It’s also where I work out tone and style and, often times, the crux of the plot.
But where to start? I think everyone’s different. For DDL I did nothing. I wrote a page on some plot points I wanted to hit and that was it. For my current book (which is broken into three parts) I’ve written a paragraph synopsis on each part and then I write a one page synopsis of each chapter…but only one at a time. Like I wrote the synopsis for Ch. 4 after I’d finished Ch. 3. Books are living, breathing, things, and no two are a like, so each one gets written differently. Makes it kind of difficult to hand out advice. But here’s mine again, distilled:
1. Give up now. If this fails, go to #2.
2. Just write. And then try #1 again.
Rinse and repeat.