Saturday, July 9, 2016

Seven steps to starting a novel - my way

Today I begin to actually put words into the word document labeled: Bree's story/Battle of Hastings.

First, though, because one of the questions I get asked a lot is how do you/I start a story?, I thought I'd share with you what I have come to recognize as MY way of starting my stories:

1) I schedule time to write. I teach high school full time and writing is my 'other' job. Even when I was on study leave, I blocked out time to be dedicated to writing. Otherwise, chores and distractions would take up the time first and then it would be back to writing assignments or real world commitments. As I write this blog post, my school holidays have just begun. I have a commitment to edit my latest manuscript but I've scheduled in parts of days (amongst the coffee catch ups, prep for Term Three, chores and leisure activities) to work on my new historical novel.

2) I make myself accountable to someone else. I tell my students, my family, my friends what I'm doing. That way, I feel some sort of obligation to carry through. I can (mostly) ignore the grumblings of my characters but it's a bit harder when real, living people keep asking 'how's the book going?' Writing posts like this is one way too.

3) I prepare my writing space (whether it's the library, my study, my bed or the couch) so that I have the essentials: lap top, note book and pencil, maps, research books, coffee, and chocolate.

4) I start at 'the explosion'. Even if this isn't how my novel actually begins, I start at the strongest most vivid scene in my head. For my last novel (507 Days - the diary of Erica Tito, Bastion Point, 1977-1978), the first thing I wrote was the climatic scene - the eviction of the protestors - which comes almost at the end of the novel. This made the writing exciting for me, meant I got words down, got me writing and got me thinking about the question of 'so how the hell did my character end up in THIS mess?'

5) I start with the main character's voice. This may also change but I need to let my POV character take charge of the narrative right from the start (pushing me to the sideline so I don't intrude). In my novel Third Degree (which my Y11s are currently studying with me), I wrote these lines first 'When they ask me, I say I can't remember but in my dreams I am breathless with laughter, running down the hall with the others chasing me. I will be caught soon.' 
The first sentence I wrote for my Bastion Point novel was 'Dad's been arrested!' 
I don't know what will be said for this new novel but I can 'hear' Bree muttering in the back of my head and I'm pretty certain 4 and 5 are going happen together this afternoon when I start.

6) I give myself permission to write what Anne Lamott calls 'Shitty First Draft'. This has been the most significant learning point in my writing career. Before I read, Bird by Bird, the critical voice (that teacher's voice) sometimes paralyzed me so that I couldn't put one word in front of the other Really, you're going to write that? Call yourself an English teacher? What would your students say? That is such rubbish writing, Roxborogh! So, I mentally punch that voice in the face and just write and write. A few things happen then: I often go on a journey I wasn't expecting; I have words to reshape later; I feel like I've achieved something (if I do nothing then nothing is the result).

7) I give myself a goal - a word or section or chapter goal. I've usually aimed for 1000 words a day. I'm not aiming for perfection at the start but it is very satisfying to see that word count climb (even if, later, half of it will be dumped). I feel even better when I go over that target. But, even if I don't hit that golden 1000, doing something is still better than nothing. For me, like piano practice or running, the longer I write, the more I write and the easier it is to write.

In summary:

  • make yourself accountable
  • prepare your writing space.
  • schedule time
  • start at the explosion
  • start with the main character's voice
  • start with 'shitty first draft'
  • start with a word count goal

And then, just keep going.

No comments: