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Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Writing Process: Where to begin?

So you want to write a story. Maybe you know what you want to write about, perhaps some details have already popped into your brain, shown up in your dreams, or bugged you when you were trying to work on other things.

But where do you start?

Tell me that this scenario doesn't sound familiar to you: an idea is eating away at you and you're dying to write it. You sit down in front of the computer, open up a blank Word document...and you stare at it. Eventually the blank screen begins to taunt you, and you start to pull out your hair, unable to think of a single place to begin to write. There's a traffic jam somewhere in your brain, and honking away at the horn is a single car containing your story. You just can't seem to get it to your destination on time!

Yup, you've got it and got it bad...dundunDUN...writer's block! But this is a very selective type of writer's block; this is where you just can't seem to think of where you want to start and nothing's coming out. How do you begin a story? Where do you start to write?

When this happens to me, I do my best to determine the cause of the problem. Usually it's one of the following:

Problem #1: I have no idea where to begin, but later scenes in the story are screaming at me in vivid detail. I just don't want to start writing at those points!

Answer: Don't force it; write it. You don't have to write in sequential order! Repeat after me: I don't have to write in sequential order. I don't have to write in sequential order. There are no "rules" to how to write; you just got to do what comes to you best. In the act of creation, there is no "wrong". Worry about grammar, sentence structure, and wording AFTER you've finished. In the software engineering world, this would be the equivalent of writing the computer program and waiting until you're done to actually test it to death to be sure it works.

Problem #2: You're so stressed about starting it off brilliantly that you're over-intellectualizing the process. You're so worried about not doing it right that you're not doing it at all.

Answer: Repeat after me: in the act of creation, there is no "wrong". Starting it out wrong and changing it later is better than not writing at all.

Problem #3: Your homework needs to be done, the kids are screaming, your kitties are crying outside your door, your significant other wants your attention, the bills need to be paid, and you HAVE TO CALL YOUR MOTHER. The list grows and every time you sit down to write, the list of things to do nags at you to the point where trying to start is impossible because you have the feeling that you have to much to do.

Answer: STOP STRESSING!!! You are not only allowed to have your "you" time, but you can't do anything on your list and do it well until you've done so. Breathe, just breathe. You'll be a happier individual for it. Allow yourself the chance to unwind at your keyboard and you'll be a happier mother, a more well-adjusted significant other, a better kitty mama, and yes, those bills will be paid. Everything in life needs its balance, and you are no different.

Problem #4: You know what you want to write, but you don't know where in the story to start. You have ideas, scenes in your head...but where do you start off everything logically for the reader?

Answer: The beginning of the story doesn't necessarily have to be "the beginning". You can start in medias res, a term that means "in the middle of things." Pulp Fiction is an extreme example of this where events happen, not necessarily in order of how they happened, and they don't all make any sense until you've finished watching the movie. When this happens, don't panic. Think of two things: a) do you have any scenes which are vivid enough to you so far to write them? b) do you know how you best want to introduce the characters? If you have a), don't worry about b)'ll come to you later.

When you start a story, you want a few things:

1) To draw in the reader and hold their attention
2) To introduce the characters and the plot that is about to unfold

The first one can be handled in the polishing/editing process; it's really the second one you want to be sure of. Think of how your favorite books and stories begin and think of how your plot would best be introduced to the reader. Where to start? Where would best bring the reader into the tale and make them interested in the story you have to tell.

I hope that this helps you all! And remember, in the act of creativity there is no "wrong". Polish and edit later, create NOW!

Love & Magic,

Please Note: I am blogging on behalf of the Boston Rape Crisis Center, and if you wish to sponsor me in any dollar amount--none is too small, every bit counts!--please go here: then email me your receipt at so I can keep a running total. If you don't know what to put down for the donation, just put "Adrianne Brennan - Blogathon".


SunEagle said...

This is win. Just the kick in the head I've been needing to pick up the story I've been writing off and on for about a year now. Cuz I'm STUCK. I know where I'm going, but I can't figure out how to get there.

Adrianne Brennan said...

Thanks Suneagle! This question has been asked of me more times than I can count, and I hope that writing this based on my own experiences has helped you and others. :)

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