Maybe you finished reading a great book, but couldn’t help thinking you could have done it better. Or perhaps you have this fantastic idea for a story you wish someone would write. Or possibly you don’t know why, but you’ve always just wanted to write a book.
For whatever your reason, you’re in the first stage of being an author, which is, simply, that you want to be an author.
Now, I’m obviously putting a focus on books specifically, but there are all sorts of simple variations on this. Like wanting to write a screenplay, or a stageplay, or maybe even, you want to start a blog. And honestly, this could stretch even further to other things like learning a new language or how to play an instrument, but we’re going to focus on the book aspect for simplicity’s sake. And so, whatever you want to write, you’ve found yourself with the itch. The Writer’s Itch. The itch that can really only be scratched one incredibly time-consuming and patience-testing way.
The first thing to realize is that you’re not alone. The number of people who want to write, but simply don’t get started are infinitesimal. Just take a look at the sheer numbers of books, blogs, screenplays, etc. being produced on an hourly basis and think about how there are, unquestionably, far more people who never even get started.
In fact, the whole concept of the National Novel Writing Month (better known as NaNoWriMo, and happening every November) is to get people who want to write, to write. This program had over 450,000 participants in 2019. This alone should show you that you’re simply not alone in your position of wanting to write.
I, myself, spent a number of years in the position of thinking I should write a book, but feeling that the sheer enormity of the concept was too much to handle. The simple idea of writing 1,000 words felt like an insurmountable task, much less the 50,000 words it takes to crest the lower word count for a novel.
I remember taking a lot of time, even after my wife convinced me that I should write a book, doing those things which I recognize now as being procrastination tactics, like hours upon hours of character background studies for even the smallest of characters. I read a whole lot of books about people with superpowers to get a grasp of how they were being used in long-form prose, as opposed to the comic books and movies where they are more traditionally found. And while that research was incredibly useful, it was unquestionably something I used to procrastinate getting started.
And I’m not going to lie to you. When you actually start putting those first words to the page, it can be quite painful. There’s all the self-doubt that comes into play almost immediately, as you wonder whether you should even attempt such a feat when there are far more competent writers already in existence, not to mention the questions about whether or not its even worth is because how in the heck do you even find readers. And then you start reading what you’ve written and want to throw your computer in the trash, never to see this type of bs again.
And you probably actually step away from writing again completely, still sitting with that urge in the back of your mind that you should write a book. And you start thinking about all of the things you could have done differently. And after a period of time, you consider that there was just a little bit of enjoyment you had for at least a minute while you were working on those early pages.
And you start over from scratch.
And you do that routine another dozen times.
You will inevitably go out and seek information on the rules of novel writing and find such great missives as “Write what you know” and “Show don’t tell” and so many other things which are supposed to be the rules of writing while being incredibly vague in their meanings. And you’ll find yourself questioning if you’re actually following those rules correctly. And you’ll fret over the fact that you are most definitely not following those rules correctly. And you will ultimately fall into a state of severe anxiety that this whole thing is a huge mistake because you simply don’t know how to write a book, even though you’ve read thousands of them over your lifetime.
And it’s at this point that you need to head that absolutely none of that matters. First, there are no real rules to writing anything. Heck, even the rules of grammar are questioned by some of the greats. And besides, you’re still on your first draft. And, regardless of what rules you follow, there’s one you’ve been ignoring. First drafts are crap. Hemingway himself is quoted as saying “The first draft of anything is shit“.
The importance of the first draft isn’t to develop an absolutely perfect piece of artwork, it’s to create the bones by which you can mold something beautiful.
We’ll get into the first draft more in the next section, but I know that one of the biggest things that kept me from actually starting writing, and keeps many people from starting their way along the path to creating their masterpiece is the simple idea that everything they write is terrible. And, well, it probably will be. That’s what editing is for. And if you’re going to be a writer, you should realize that you will spend far more time editing that you’ll ever spend writing.
Which means, if you are struggling with getting started because you think what you write is crap, CONGRATS! you’re in a great place. Because if you ever hope to edit your book into something worthwhile, you have to be able to see its failures. And if you’re already seeing them before you’ve even completed the first draft, then you’re well on your way to becoming an amazing author.
So, if you want to write a book, just get started. Write something. Put a few words to paper. If it helps, consider it a test scene for the book you’re going to start writing, just so you start to get something out there. I often do this when starting work on a book, where I just write a little bit of a section of somewhere in the middle so I can get an idea of where I want to go, to develop the voice and tempo a bit. And the best part about this is that I write that knowing I’m going to throw it away.
Much like a first draft in general. You will throw away most of what you get out for your first draft. But, you’ll at least have something to work with.
When people ask me about what they should do to get into writing, my answer has always been to just start writing. And then the next day, you write some more. Because you can always go back and change things when you realize you screwed something up.
In summation, the TL:DR for today is “If you want to write, just start writing. The worst thing that could happen is you decide you don’t actually like writing and you’ll finally get that urge to write out of the back of your mind. The other thing that could happen is you find an incredible hobby which you can maybe turn into something more than a hobby.
And I hope you do start writing. There’s nothing I like more than to find more people passionate about crafting a story.