It’s a terrifying
thing, that blank page or empty screen at the start of a new book. The idea
behind the story seemed so compelling when you first thought of it; you can see
it in your head and you know it could be a great book; you know you’re the one
who could write it… but the longer you face the blankness, the more you start
to doubt all those things.
But the one thing that
there’s absolutely no doubt about, is that you’ll never know till you try. It
won’t ever be any sort of book until you write it. And that means making marks
on that blank screen. It means finding words and spelling them out. It means
Writing a story is
quite a different thing to thinking a story. The story you create in your mind
tends to have the big scenes, but you don’t have to worry about segueing between
those scenes. You can come up with fun details but don’t necessarily notice
when some contradict each other.
That’s why starting to write can seem so
paralysing: all those scenes and details are going to have to mesh and make
sense. And a novel, even a short children’s chapter book, is full of so many
scenes, so many details, character traits, hints of back story, stories within
a story… how are you ever going to pull them all together?
So here are a few
points to help you be brave enough to write that first word; things that I
still remind myself of each time I start a new book:
can hear a first sentence in your head, you’re ready to go.
sentence is almost certainly not going to be the first sentence in the final
book. Don’t go on fine tuning it; it simply has to lead you into the story: you,
the writer. It might be perfect to lead a reader in, too – but for now, just
concentrate on how you feel.
manuscript will be a first draft. No worthwhile book is written in one draft.
else ever has to see this draft.
have to start at the beginning. If you can see one climactic scene particularly
clearly, write it now. Once you’ve got the feel for the tone of the story and
how you want to write these characters, it will be much easier to go back and
start at the beginning.
writing by hand, try using a pencil if a pen seems too permanent. Sit a great
big eraser in front of you to remind you that you can rub something out if you
really want to.
using a beautiful pen as your designated writing pen, or start with a good luck
pen. (I sometimes like using a pen from the Loews Hotel, where I stayed for the
Hollywood premiere of Nim’s Island.)
for paper – find a notebook that matches the feeling of your story, and feel
inspired by the feeling that your book already has a cover.
you’re intimidated by the handmade gift or the vellum paper, use a plain coil
notebook, child’s old exercise book, single sheets of paper – whatever reminds
you that it’s the ideas that matter, not the medium.
If you’re starting on the computer, remember
that the delete key is your friend. But if you have several different first
sentences, paragraphs or scenes that you can’t decide between, file the
probably-rejected ones in separate documents. You don’t have to truly throw
them out till you’re sure – and not even then.
Set up your header right away: title,
date & page number. It makes life much easier later on, so that you don’t
have to mutter, ‘I was sure I’d changed that!’ and then realise that you’ve got
undated drafts muddled up. It also fills in something on your page.
Print out what you’ve accomplished on
your first day, no matter how brief. Accomplished is the key word – you’ve
started. Besides, every time you look at it, even when you don’t have time to
return to it, you’ll start to see what the next line will be, where the scene
I said 12, but I think the thirteenth is important:
Be gentle with yourself, remember that
there are no rules, and have fun with your story. You might be surprised where
it leads you, now that it’s taking shape in the written word.