A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
– Lao Tzu
You may want to give writing a try, but the idea of beginning is overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to feel like a big step, or one that you need much skill to undertake. Essentially, you just need to start.
You do need to do some thinking in order to formulate a story, but don’t let that hold you up. You can begin at any time by writing a few lines about whatever is on your mind, just to try things out.
When considering your story, begin with a basic idea. You might have a theme or a message in mind. The power of fiction to communicate a message is a topic for another post; for now, let’s just assume you’ve an idea that interests you – a setting, a character, a personal journey, an observation about human nature.
Think about your protagonist. The reason for beginning here is firstly because a strong character can sustain a weak plot, but the reverse is not true – if your reader doesn’t care about your character, then your rip-roaring plot will be hollow. Secondly, the plot develops from what you know about your character.
So, get to know who they are. What do they want? What is propelling them on this journey they’re taking through the story? Why do they want that? What’s at stake if they fail? This gives you their motivation and what the goal means to them. This doesn’t have to be an epic quest across Middle Earth to return the One Ring to Mount Doom – it could be something more subtle like someone’s battle to recover from an addiction so that their son will speak to them again.
Once you know what your character wants, you have to find the things that are standing in their way. There might be external factors that make things very hard for your character, an antagonist who tries to foil them at every turn; or there may be internal doubts and weaknesses that hold them back. These show your character’s struggle and give tension to the story.
But I’m going to return here to the need to simply start writing, before I begin to make it sound too complicated. Turn off your inner critic for the first draft, and just let it out. Don’t worry about finding the perfect place to start – you can write the beginning later. If you don’t know what to write, then sometimes just writing anything at all can get the words flowing – see if something interesting starts to form.
Your writing isn’t supposed to be great quality at first. Learning creative writing is like learning tennis – you only learn it by playing it. Your coach gives you some pointers, you do some exercises, then you play some more. Yes, we all learned to write functionally in primary school, but grown-up creative writing is another skill. So turn off your inner perfectionist, and just get going!
It’s something to be proud of that you’ve opened a blank document and made a start.
This Reedsy article is a great one for developing your character with a view to understanding your story.
This Master Class article gives advice on how to work as a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ – yes, these are official writing terms!
This Jericho Writers piece discusses using the Snowflake Method to formulate a plot.
This is another Jericho Writers piece, about starting to write a book. You may wish to start smaller, so don’t be put off by the amount of info given here. Also, I’d always put characters before plot.