What do I write about?

Lots of people have posted in the group,

“I want to be a writer, but I don’t know how to get started.”

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Lots of people have posted in the group,

“I want to be a writer, but I don’t know how to get started.”

There’s been some great feedback in these threads, but it’s a fast-moving group. It doesn’t take long before the last post on the subject is too far down the page to easily find, and someone else asks,

“Hey, I’m new here and I’ve always wanted to write. How do I get started?”

The most obvious, and frequently commented answer is, of course,

“Write”.

While this may seem condescending, obvious, and not particularly helpful, it’s also true. As daunting as it always seems to put pen to paper for the first time before you even have an idea, it really is the best start. Free-writing, which is writing with no agenda (for those that didn’t read Overcoming Obstacles), is a great way to practice writing, get in touch with your creative side, and kick-start your imagination.

Don’t get upset with yourself if you don’t get a killer idea on your first try. You might not even get your story idea from free-writing at all. It could be a conversation with friends, a movie, a video game, or even someone else’s book that gives you an idea you can’t wait to write down. You could even ask the group for a writing prompt if you like.

Once you have an idea, no matter how you got it, you need to write to expand the idea into a full story. Tell yourself the story in broad strokes. Who is the main character? What do they want out of life? What interferes with that? Do they overcome this obstacle? How does it affect them personally? Make any other notes about the timeframe, setting, and characters that come to mind.

You may wish to provide yourself with an outline. This can be as simple as a paragraph each describing the beginning, middle, and end of your story, or it could be an elaborately detailed timeline. Some people prefer to skip this step entirely and write by the seat of their pants.

Whether you’re pantsing or not, you’re going to need to make a rough draft. This is the first run through of writing the story. Keep your notes and outline handy, if you’ve made any, so you can be consistent. Don’t worry too much about it though, or about spelling and grammar, you can fix all of that later.

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If you find yourself deviating from the plan you made, that’s okay, you find the story brings itself back on track in a way you didn’t expect. Character’s personalities might even change as you’re writing them, that’s all okay too. Keep writing, and see where it leads. Getting a story down on paper can sometimes feel like wrestling with a live python.

Once you’ve managed to fight the story onto the pages, now comes the part that a lot of writers, including myself, hate. Reading through the rough draft and finding those errors in consistency, spelling, grammar and flow that you tried so hard to ignore while you were writing out your rough draft. Lots of people give up at this stage and say to themselves,

“I’m a horrible writer.”

Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s a rough draft. Everyone’s rough draft is horrible. I’ve said this before in previous articles because everyone needs to know this. The rough draft is supposed to be rough.

Some people, Steven King included (according to his book ‘On Writing‘),  like to leave their rough draft in a drawer for two weeks to make this step easier. Read through your rough draft, as if it’s someone else’s work. If you have a writing buddy, you might even want to swap manuscripts at this step and provide each other with helpful notes.

There’s a variety of different ways to do this. Some people like to make notes as they’re reading, and then write up the new draft from those notes. Some (like myself) transpose the handwritten rough draft into a word processing document, making corrections as they go. Others will scrap the rough draft entirely and start from scratch.

Once the second draft is written, you’re still not done. Read it again. If it doesn’t need another re-write, now’s the time for beta-readers, which might include the aforementioned writing buddy again. Beta-readers, for those not familiar with the term, are people who get to read your story before it gets published, in exchange for their feedback.

You don’t have to agree with everything the beta-readers tell you, but if you find that many of them are offering the same input, you may have to add a little to the story to produce the desired effect. The missing piece that makes the story fully immersive may take a while to find, and that’s okay. Don’t feel bad about putting the story on the backburner until it comes to you. You may even find your incomplete story inspires a better one.

Writing well takes practice. Sometimes you’ll get stuck completely, in which case try to use your time productively. Free-write, work on another idea, help someone read through their rough draft, read books that will help you understand the subjects, places and people you’re writing about, or chat with other Creative Writers to try and get your creative juices flowing again.

In other words, the best way to get started is to get started. Let us help you if you get stuck, and if your short-story is as well written as you can get it, submit it for the Monolith anthology 🙂

If you like what we’re doing, please support us by backing our Kickstarter campaign. If you can’t back us yourself, please share the project around. If you have any questions about the project, just ask.

Have a great day 🙂

Antony M. Copeland

 

Overcoming Obstacles

All kinds of things can get in the way when you’re trying to write, and I’m going to mention a few. The biggest obstacle for most of us though is writer’s block.

All kinds of things can get in the way when you’re trying to write, and I’m going to mention a few. The biggest obstacle for most of us though is writer’s block. It doesn’t seem to matter how many of the other issues we resolve, writer’s block always seems to be lurking around the corner, ready to pounce, right as our fingers are hovering over the keyboard, or our pen is about to touch the page.

All of these issues have been mentioned in the Creative Writers group at least once. The first one I’m going to tackle is self-doubt. It’s doozy, and one that often disguises itself as various excuses. After you push through “I don’t have the time”, “I have to be available for my kids (or some other person-in-need)”, or “I’m always so tired after work” (all of which I will also talk about) you usually find yourself saying “no-one will want to hear my story” or “I don’t have anything to say”.

That’s twaddle, and it doesn’t even matter. Self-esteem isn’t necessary for writing. In fact, self-doubt is an almost universally understood state of being. Even if all you have to say is “I have no idea what to write about, but this guy AntonyM guy tells me I should try this, so here goes…” just start writing and see where it leads you. What you’ll find as you continue writing (“there’s no way this is going to work! It’s a complete waste of time…”) that the words start flowing a little easier, a little faster, and before you know it, you’re writing! You can do it, and it feels good!

It may take a few tries at this exercise to get the words really flowing, but you may even find yourself writing a story. Something you didn’t even know you had in you. I can almost guarantee you that it won’t be the story you imagined you’d write. The greatest gift my ex-wife ever gave me was teaching me this technique. I believe she learned it as she studied to be an English Teacher. It’s called ‘freewriting’, and it’s as easy as putting pen to paper, and seeing where it takes you.

This is when you might face another possible hurdle. Even if you weren’t freewriting. You might be deep in the middle of writing then, for whatever reason, you look at what you’ve just written and said to yourself, “This is crap! A 10-year old could do better!” Don’t throw it out. It’s supposed to be crap. It’s a rough draft. Get your ideas out on the page first, then fix it later. Let yourself think like a 10-year old. Just tell the story. Don’t worry about how well it’s written yet.

Keep writing until you feel like you’ve hit a wall. Is it time to sleep? Then sleep. Is there something else needs doing today? Do the thing. The obstacle to avoid here is procrastination. Once more it can hide in excuses that you can reasonably consider true. You got distracted. You had to stay longer than you planned. Things just kept coming up. You might even tell yourself it’s writer’s block. Personally, I love procrastinating and “I’m too tired” is my typical excuse.

I’m getting better at making writing my priority though. It can be tough though to say “writing comes first” and mean it. There’s always some loved one that you don’t want to hurt, a prior commitment, or even a job that you’ve learned to put first. I have to remind myself that when I put the needs first I never had the time to write. I truly mean to be a successful writer, and that means I need to make it a priority. If you want to see your book being read by someone way cooler than you think you are, make writing a priority.

So here you are, ready to pick up where you left off. You pull up the notes you were working on from your last freewriting session, story, or dream-born idea and….nothing. Writer’s block. Now you could just start freewriting again (“wtf? Seriously? Now? I finally got the best story idea ever, and now it’s just gone? Poof!? It’s just not fair!…”) about having writers block, or you could do one of my favourite things in the world to do lately, and that’s talking to you guys, the Creative Writers.

Beware using Facebook as a distracting excuse to procrastinate though. I do it myself. Far too much. There’s always another conversation I want to jump into. There have been quite a few times that I didn’t even get around to posting my question before a notification tells me that someone else wants to join, or I see a member asking for feedback on their own writing, or someone is spamming us with stuff that barely relates to writing at all.

I should be working on my Monolith submission right now, but old habits die hard and I know that the group has been literally calling out for this article to be written. So I will be making my own writing a priority this week. Feel free to check on me and make sure I’ve not found some excuse to procrastinate again. 😉

The point I’ve diverted from was that you can talk to other Creative Writers about your story, explaining the basic premise so far and the part that you’re stuck on. You can also do this with a real live human being if you happen to have one nearby willing to listen. I usually find myself figuring out exactly what happens next in the story as I’m trying to summarise the plot. If however, you’ve posted your predicament and have yet to perceive a possible solution to the problem (sorry I like to alliterate occasionally) it shouldn’t be too long before you have a comment, and probably several.

Here comes another hurdle. One that you’ll come across again if you ask for help with editing or proofreading later on. When receiving feedback, remember that it is only a suggestion. Take all of it with a pinch of salt. It’s your story, not theirs, and only you get to decide how you tell it. Having said that, listen to what people have to say. Their suggestion may not fit your story exactly, but if you poke at it a bit and adjust it for context, it may give you some perspective that you were lacking, and lead you out of your writer’s block.

Let’s pretend for a moment that you overcame your self-doubt, found the time to write between your kids, spouse, job and chores, managed to keep yourself on-task during that time, taken feedback like a champ and completed your first rough and terrible draft of your story. Now comes the horrid part. At least for me. This is my least favourite part of the process. You have to read through what you’ve written and fix all the mistakes.

The dreaded re-write. Filled with all the same pit-traps and shiny distractions that you got the first time around. As you find more and more horrible mistakes, you start to doubt yourself all over again (“I write like a monkey stole my brain!”) and come up with excuses not to do it. If you power through it though, getting help when you need it, the story that comes out will be much easier for other people to read!

Writing is a craft, it takes time, patience, and many subtle stages before the final piece is revealed. The more time and attention you can give to it, the better the finished story will be. Which leads me to the final hurdle (that I can currently think of). Knowing when it’s done. I still have a tendency to think a story is done way too early. It may be related to my distaste for re-writing, but I’m making myself re-write a rejected ghost-story for my Monolith submission to give myself the practice. Or at least I will be when I stop procrastinating.

Honestly, I have yet to master the art of knowing when it is done. I haven’t even come up with an idea besides “keep rewriting until it’s done”, which leads to repeating the question “But how do I know when it’s done?” Perhaps you have a suggestion?

I’d also love to hear your suggestions for the other obstacles. Let me know if I can help you overcome any because it will give me an excuse to procrastinate 😉

Keep writing! 😀