The action of actually writing, putting your fingers over the keyboard and typing, or grabbing that pen and putting words down on paper, is only part of what it means to be a writer.
Writing is staring out the window, lost in thought.
Writing is experiencing life, and noticing the details.
Writing is people-watching.
Taking note of how someone carries themself.
The inflection someone uses to say “no thanks.”
Writing is more than just writing.
To be a writer, it’s important to actually sit down and write. However, there is quite a bit of work to do before sitting in the chair.
Orson Scott Card said, “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”
Thankfully, you’re past that stage. You have an idea. But how do you know when it’s time to start writing?
That’s a great question. If you start writing before you’re ready, you’re unlikely to finish. Anyone can start writing a book, but it takes a lot of effort to follow through until the last sentence. If your idea is still just an idea and you haven’t put much thought into it, you could easily write yourself into a corner.
There’s also the opposite problem: You are ready to start writing, but you’re nervous to start. (Imposter Syndrome, anyone?)
If you’re ready to start writing but never do…well, then you’re not a writer.
To answer these questions and help you prepare to write the book that’s inside you…
How to Start Writing
Writing is no small feat. It takes bravery to start and endurance to finish. It takes stamina. A willingness to fail. It also takes preparation.
Much of knowing when you’re ready to start writing comes with knowing how to prepare. How you prepare depends on the book YOU want to write.
How you prepare to write your book will be different than how I prepare to write mine. Regardless of the genre you write, everyone is a different person. Everyone works differently.
However, there are some general tips that can be applied to your writing preparation. As you read through them, take note of which ones resonate and which ones don’t. Half the battle is finding what doesn’t work for you, so you can pinpoint exactly what will work for you.
Step 1. Evaluate if you’re ready to start writing
If the idea you have won’t leave you alone, it may be time to sit in the chair and start writing. As the quote goes, “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day.”
It doesn’t say everybody walks past a thousand great story ideas every day. It’s crucial to differentiate the good ideas from the great ideas.
Here’s a test:
- See if the idea comes back to you later
- See if you get more excited about it as you consider it
- Run it by a friend and note their reaction
Not all ideas are meant to be a full-length manuscript. Not all ideas are even meant to be written. Some ideas are best for a short story, blog post, or article. Others should probably be left behind.
But if the idea continually comes to mind, you get more excited the more you think about it, and when you mention it to others they seem interested, it may be time to take that idea to the page.
Step 2. Think about what you want to write about
Write about what you know. Write about what inspires you. Write what you want to communicate. Writing is communicating, after all.
In today’s world, it’s easy to know a lot about a lot. Simply type a question into a search engine and see what comes up. Search a how-to on YouTube, and now you know how to change a tire.
However, some of us are particularly interested or invested in a particular topic. Maybe you spent every summer growing up at the beach, boating, fishing, and swimming. Including scenes similar to these activities could be helpful for you as a writer.
If you’re writing a middle-grade novel about four friends who vacation on the coast when you grew up on the coast, many of the details you include will ring true and bring credibility to your story.
You can include the taste of salt in the air, the way the wind tangles your hair worse than when you’re back at home because the salt sticks to every strand. You can talk about the crabs that leave bubbles in the sand as the waves recede back into the sea.
If you’ve never gone to the ocean, you can still write about it. It will just take more time and focused research.
If you’re just starting out writing, it will probably be beneficial for you to write what you know.
But you should also write what inspires you. Make sure that idea really will last the entire length of a manuscript.
Step 3. Start with the ideas
You know it’s time to start writing, you know what to write about, and now it’s time to actually do the thing. It’s time to write.
Here is a four-step process to think through. Not every method will work for you, but it’s likely one will. As you read through the list below, notice which ideas excite you.
Brainstorming & More:
Let’s start with option one.
1. Thought Dump
This is where you dump all your thoughts on the particular idea onto a sheet of paper, sticky notes, an empty document on your computer, whatever works. It doesn’t need to be organized, color-coded, or in any semblance of a story timelines. Just get it down.
If you’re writing a nonfiction book about how to start a business your thought dump may include some of the following: Brand, name, title, location, audience, online presence, goals, employees, domain name, etc.
There is no order, but from there you can go deeper into what colors you want for the brand, what feeling you want people to have when they hear the name of the business, how to determine who your audience is…
Maybe you’re naturally an organized person. You like a clean house. Your phone is always backed up. Every vacation is literally mapped out, and you vacuum your car once a week.
First of all, well done. Maybe one day I’ll be like you. But second, outlining simply means taking your natural personality and translating it onto the page.
You like organization. You want to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. Perfect. Do the same for your story.
Outline scene by scene. Whether you want to outline every single scene is up to you. But make a point of at least outlining the inciting incident, climax, and resolution.
An outline is similar to a puzzle. You get all the pieces together and you can see the big picture. Writing the story consists of simply putting the pieces, or scenes, together. If you outline, you don’t need to worry about getting stuck or writing yourself into a corner.
When you outline you do the hard work up front, and then simply need to plug in those scenes, tie them together with words and paragraphs, and complete your book.
In the fiction world there are often two terms people use: Either you are an outliner, a pantser, or a hybrid of both.
We defined what it means to outline above. Pantsing is simply writing by the seat of your pants.
This can be an extremely enjoyable way to write, as long as you have some sort of goal you’re writing toward.
Simply sitting down to write whatever comes to mind will likely take you down countless rabbit trails and result in a story that makes little to zero sense.
Instead, as Stephen King says, “Put interesting characters in difficult situations and write to find out what happens.”
For instance, if you want your protagonist to be a young adult getting her first job post college. Create one more character, and put the two of them into an interesting situation.
Let’s say your character just graduated with a degree in wildlife biology and got her first job at a zoo. What would be an interesting character to pair her with?
Perhaps there’s an older man who tends the grounds, but when he was younger, through ____ circumstances he was put in charge of a lion cub but never gave it back. Now he has a grown, pet lion that spends the nights in his basement.
Write and find out!
Step 4. Start At The Beginning
Similar to pantsing, you could start an outline but before finishing outlining, start your story.
To continue with the above example, let’s say:
- Your first scene is your protagonist showing up to her first day at the zoo.
- The second scene is her meeting the older man.
- The third scene is her spotting a lion in the parking lot (who followed him to work that morning).
Now you just start writing, and keep writing, past the point of your outlined scenes.
Keep in mind that no matter what method you take, if you combine them, or try something else entirely, it is helpful to know where you are headed.
Writing is a journey, and just like a journey, usually you know you’ll return home.
You may not know when, how, who you’ll return with or without, but you will return home.
So where will your protagonist end up?
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins starts his journey by leaving his home, the Shire.
In the end, he’s safe.
But how he gets safe, where safe is, who is with him or isn’t with him in the end…that’s the story.
What’s your story?
It’s Time To Start
You’re ready to start writing, you know what to write about, and now you have everything you need.
What’s your story?
Where does your character start the story? Where does your character end up?
The inbetween is the story. The highs and lows. The catch-your-breath moments and the sink-back-in-your-chair, relieved moments.
If you believe your idea can take your protagonist from start to end, then it’s time to begin writing.
You’ve done your story prep.
You’ve spent the time necessary.
Now you get to pick up that pen or sit down at your empty screen and create.
Writer, it’s time to write.