You decided to write a book. The ideas were there, but disappeared the moment you opened a new Word document. Now the only thing standing in the way of you being the next New York Times bestseller author is actually start your writing project.
What to do?
Turn off the computer and return to talking about the book you’re going to write someday. It’s way easier. Or take a deep breath and trust the process.
We want to believe inspiration or muses are necessary for the words to flow on the page. But inspiration is a temperamental, and muses are unpredictable. The writing process — planning, writing and revising— is steadfast and dependable. Do the work, and the words will come.
Back when I taught composition and advanced writing, I’d start the semester by writing a boiled-down version of the process on the board — pre-write, write, and re-write.
Pre-write – explore and research the subject you what to write about. Write – draft your take on the information you collected. Re-write/rethink your understanding based on feedback and expanded information brought up by your discovery through the writing process.
Each step is necessary to write well. But to start a writing project you have to pre-write or plan. Failing to prewrite is one of the quickest ways to derail your writing before you even get started.
So, what is pre-writing?
Prewriting builds a blueprint for your project by collecting the necessary information to start writing. Begin by examining your intentions. What question are you trying to answer? What problem do you want to solve? Is there specific information you want to share? What do you want readers to learn or think? What related experiences have you had or heard about? What’s the current buzz? Do you agree or disagree with the popular thinking? What’s your take on the subject?
This is the point of the process where I start a dedicated notebook to jot down ideas. A lot of what’s in this notebook never makes it to the story, essay or blog. The notes are there to help me sort out my thinking and figure out what I know and what I don’t know.
That leads right into the research portion of planning. Start a list of questions that need to be answered. Read what others have written on the subject. Be careful not to get lost in the research or hung up because other writers seem to know more.
If you’re writing fiction, research can include learning about your characters. You can discover a ton about by interviewing them. It may seem weird, but pretend the two of you are having coffee. Ask questions. Are they forth coming? Or reluctant to share? How are they dressed? What do they do for fun? Do they have any pet peeves? Where did they grow up? Some suggest finding out what’s in their refrigerator, but honestly that doesn’t work for me. I couldn’t tell you what’s in my own refrigerator. The important thing is to answer questions help you discover who the characters are.
Research can help you develop your setting and various plot points. Maybe you need to investigate the time period or the city where the story takes place. Recently, I researched the Greek mythology of the muses for a short story. I learned that there were nine muses and that they were the product of a nine-day “relationship” with Zeus and Mnemosyne. I didn’t use any of that in the story but it helped me to think more broadly about the plot.
Another part of pre-writing and planning is what I like to call playtime. For fiction, I write vignettes with my characters to see how they react in different situations. Often these vignettes turn into larger scenes. For non-fiction, I take the raw information and do a forty-five minute free-write to see where it goes. During the process of free writing, you may discover how much you have to say on the subject. You might also discover the piece isn’t about what you thought it would be.
So while prewriting may seem tedious, it gets you one step closer to your goal of being that best selling author.
Now, close this blog and start.