Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Getting Started

I start getting closer to my regular "school year" schedule this week. Children's choir gets kicked off tonight, but it's just the pizza party/registration/meet the teacher night, with no lesson plan required. Next week's really back to normal, with a regular children's choir class and the start of chancel choir rehearsals for me. Now, if only the fall weather would follow …

Since it's the start of a new school year, it's a good time to talk about getting things started. If you've decided you want to start writing, what do you do? How do you get started? Some people would say to start writing short stories. Others might tell you to outline a novel. I think my advice would be to write what's in your head and don't worry about what to call it.

Chances are that you're not going to be able to sell the first thing you write, anyway, so why worry about what market niche it fits into? Forcing yourself to try to write one particular thing may only stifle you, and you won't be able to tell what kind of writer you are until you start writing. Although there's a lot of advice about starting with short stories in some genres, short story writing and novel writing are two very different disciplines, and shorter isn't necessarily easier for everyone. At the same time, an entire novel is pretty daunting, and the idea in your head is probably not enough to sustain an entire book on its own. It will require development.

But really, at this stage, the important thing is to write. It's about exploring. Start with whatever you've got in your head and see where it goes. Play with it. Write a character vignette and see what you learn about that character. Write a scene. Write a description. Write a story. Write a chapter. When you've got something written, you can decide where to go with it. Does it stand alone? Is it part of a whole? Is it about a place where things can happen? Is it about a person who might do things?

Depending on the kind of writer you are, you may want to just keep exploring. Or you may want to pause and do some research, brainstorming and outlining before you develop it further. Or you may realize that this idea isn't as awesome as it seemed when it only lived in your head and put it aside to work on something else.

That's okay. While you will eventually have to finish something in order to sell it if that's your goal, when you're just starting out the idea is to develop your skills and to figure out what your talent is. You may write thousands and thousands of words before you hit your stride and start to feel like you've found your voice. You may start and discard a dozen ideas before one really works. What I often find is that two partial discarded ideas will suddenly merge and click into a viable story concept. I wouldn't have had that concept if I hadn't at least tried to develop those ideas.

The important thing is to keep at it and not be discouraged when you don't produce something of bestseller quality with your first attempt. Your first steps were probably pretty wobbly, and you likely fell down rather quickly. The same thing applies to learning just about any new skill. Writing may seem like something anyone can do because you already do it, but writing fiction isn't the same as the kind of writing you've done for school or work. So give yourself a break and let yourself play enough to know where you want to go with it.

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