So you want to write a story. Congratulations! That is the first step to becoming a published author! But where do you begin such a daunting task? Sure, you might have a grandiose idea floating around in your head, but how do you birth that little thought baby into reality? Well, there are two kinds of people in this world:
A Planner will sit down and outline every little detail of their story, down to which character sneezes on page 63. They will have notebooks upon notebooks of explicit details pertaining to every character, every location, and every plot point in their story. They know each characters backstory, the color of their hair and eyes, how they like to eat their sandwiches, and their astrological signs. Most of the time, none of these details ever end up making it into the story. But hey, it makes them happy, so why not!
Pilots, on the other hand, like to wing things. They sit down at their computers and let their fingers fly across the keys. They might get pretty far too; 6000 words deep, and then they hit it…the writer’s block. *Cue ominous music* Suddenly they start to rethink everything. What would motivate this character to behave in such a way? Why do they have such a burning hatred of hotdogs, anyways? And how does this detail correlate to all the other details in the story? Somehow nothing is matching up! The story has hijacked itself!
You see, there are pros and cons to each method, and I myself have used both in the past, depending on my attention span, motivation, and whether or not my muse has decided to grace me with his wonderful bounty of inspiration (which, let’s be real, he seldom does). Either way you’ll get things written, but there comes a point in every writers life where they hit a point where they just…stop writing. And they usually then move onto their next project. This is how someone ends up with fifteen half finished stories and nothing to show for it.
Being a plotter means that your story will have unimaginable depth. The downside is that it can be very attractive to just sit down and plan and plan, but planning isn’t actually writing. You become so bogged down in the creation of a world, or the development of a character that before you know it, you’ve lost the grain of inspiration for the story. If you would like to attempt this approach to writing, I advise self discipline. It’s ok to plan things out before you sit down and start the actual story, but dear god, no one needs to know every single detail of your character’s outfit unless that outfit ends up become a crucial plot point to your story.
Or perhaps you’d like to take the route of the courageous pilot, jumping into your story with absolutely no idea where it’s going. Good luck with that, champ. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones that can actually make it to the end of 80,000 words without using a single note or reference. That would be pretty ambitious of you, but you know what? I have faith in you. I sincerely hope your plane doesn’t crash and burn like so many of mine have. (“That’s not supposed to sound bitter” I say as I cry over the graveyard of half finished stories I have clogging up my hard drive). I’m sure some authors function like that, and function quite successfully. Then maybe you can write a self-help book on how you managed to be a prodigy who can sit down and complete a full length novel without having any idea where it’s going.
Regardless of which kind of writer you are, here are some tips to get you started:
- Make an outline: This is definitely a planner trait, but there’s a difference between making an outline, and making an outline for the outline with footnotes and an abridged version, and…you get the picture. You should generally know where your story starts, where it ends, and the general goings-on in the middle. This is the core strain of the story, the crux, if you will. An outline often takes your vacant idea and helps you figure out the crux and flow of the story.
- Be flexible: Just because you have created an outline does not mean that your story will follow it. Sometimes your writing carries you away into territory that you would never imagine, but that’s a good thing! So allow yourself some flexibility to allow your characters to grow into their own personalities as you write. It’s ok to stray from your outline if it feels right to you. The outline is more like a guideline, not a hard rule.
- Explore your characters through the story: As mentioned above, sometimes you start with a character and they become so real and dynamic that they change in ways that you never could have imagined (what an oxymoron that is…think about it). You don’t want to end up godmodding your own characters. So allow yourself room to explore all the possibilities of your characters.
- Walk away and take breaks when needed: Nothing is worse than trying to force an idea to manifest when it just doesn’t want to come. In instances like this, perhaps the lack of manifestation is due to the fact that it just isn’t ready. So think on it some more, let it ruminate in your thoughts for a few more days, or weeks, or months. Work on something else in the meantime. And then, when you feel like you can tackle the creation of the outline or the start of chapter one with a fresh mind and positive attitude, it will be a much more successful endeavor.
- Develop a writing schedule: Being a writer is all about self-discipline. Find a time that works best for you where you can sit down and dedicate a chunk of time to writing. This might be the morning before anyone else is awake, it might be last thing at night right before you go to bed, or it might be in the fifteen minutes you have for a lunch break at work. For me, my favorite time to write is late at night after I have decompressed from the day and done my meditation and yoga. I find that the events of the day greatly influence what I write, in a positive way. Some people don’t like this, and prefer to work with a fresh mind first thing in the morning. Whatever time works for you, make an effort to stick to a schedule so that you can look forward to writing at that time every day.
- Practice freewriting in between: There are often a lot of thoughts going through your head at once, and working on a novel or writing project can be a great way to get whatever’s in your head out into reality. However, sometimes your mind ends up feeling a little clogged with other miscellaneous thoughts that can be very distracting when you’re trying to focus on a project. In these instances, I encourage you to practice freewriting. This can be in the form of journaling, writing poetry, brainstorming, or time-challenges where you sit down and write continuously for about fifteen minutes, allowing all thoughts and words to flow through your fingers unfiltered and unedited. This clears your mind of all that clutter and can also be a fun way to think of new ideas in the process.
- Organize: I can’t tell you how important organization is when you are a creative person. When you’re starting out, it’s easy to just create a word document, name it some random title, and put it in your documents folder on your computer. But as time goes on and the story grows, you will most likely be creating multiple documents for one story. These documents, if you aren’t careful, can end up being named random things that have no correlation to the story, or you might end up with five documents named “story notes” for stories completely unrelated to each other. Especially if you are like me and work on multiple writing projects at one time. My recommendation is to create story folders. That way, as your project grows, you can add supplementary documents into the appropriate story folder, keeping everything organized and easy to find. When naming your documents, make sure to pick titles that you will easily be able to find and identify.
- Write: This is an obvious one, but the only way to start writing is to…start writing. It’s really that simple. Talking about writing is not writing. Creating the writer aesthetic is not writing. These things are cool all on their own, and I encourage you to do these things as well, but if you ever want to have a finished product, you have to sit down and crank it out. You can’t work with something that isn’t there. So even if you’re feeling a little apprehensive about your story idea, just start! Then you can go back and edit and add or subtract whatever you need to in order to make it better.
- Have fun: If you aren’t having fun creating a story, or even thinking about writing a story; if it feels more like a task than an exciting challenge, then why are you doing it? Go do something that you will have fun doing, like rock climbing or painting or golfing or casual sex….or taxes. Whatever you’re doing in your free time should be fun!
- Remember why you started: It’s easy to get discouraged halfway through a creative project. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want, and sometimes your story becomes so confusing and overwhelming that you think “why did I ever think this was a good idea?”. Just remember, there was a reason you started. Try to remember that reason. If you can make it over that hump, I guarantee you will have a product you can be so proud of!
Writing a story is not an easy task. Beginning might be easy, but actually putting in the work to finish it will leave you feeling so fulfilled that you’ll want to write ten more. So whether you are a plotter or a pilot, whether you are new to this practice or have been writing since you were a small human, it’s all good! Surround yourself with positive people and positive thoughts, sit down, and make it happen. You’ll be so proud of yourself when you finish.