Write the Next Word, then the One After That.



This is my old writing office. You don’t need one of these.

I have a great many things to discuss, but this is not the post for those because the most important thing about November, which today I must considerably address, is that it is, at last, NaNoWriMo! One of my very favourite times of the year, although there are many moments in the depths of forcing one word out to the tune of another where I wonder how and why I ever thought it a good idea.

But, it’s always a good idea. I like to think of last year, where, even now, I can’t really remember what I did for fifty thousand words, I can only remember how much I loathed it. I was so upset with myself that I’d taken a good idea and ruined it. I was so angry that my amazing concept for a novel had been beaten into a bloody and miserable pulp and left crying on the frosty grounds of December that I thought I might just never NaNo again.

See, it only took about a day after that, where I didn’t fight with it, for me to think…hey, that was a great idea I had there. Hey, that was interesting. Hey, maybe some day, one day, I’ll come back to that.

And now, as I begin to push forwards on another, different project, I’m finding it quite a comfort that I’ve already won NaNo four times, which means I have four fifty thousand word lumps of material to tweak and play with…or three, really, because one I already moulded and chopped and lopped and so on and turned that into The Pulse.

This couldn’t be a better time for me to NaNo, though. I’m in a new home, back home, with space and time and opportunity and to have the structure of NaNo to get writing into my every day is precisely what I need right now. And if there’s one thing that you can get from NaNo, it’s material, and if there’s one more thing you can get, it’s the gift of fitting writing into your day.

I think a thousand words a day is pretty easy. I can, if I go to WriteOrDie, bang out a thousand words in fifteen minutes (and sometimes they’ve been my best ones XD). But it’s that damn 667 that get me. They mount up so quickly. It’s easy to feel behind in NaNoWriMo, and that’s why sprints and marathons are a great thing. I’m going to do a couple of them today. And I’m not going to use up any more of my easily-coming words blogging about it.

It’s just a hey NaNo, yay Nano, missed you NaNo sort of post. Anyone else doing it? How’s it going?

How to Start Writing

Having got excited about this, I thought I’d ask and see if there was anything any of my friends wanted me to write about, and Bearnerdette suggested About writing. Your methods, your inspiration, and so on and I thought, that’s a good idea.

And then I thought, oh crikey, where to start? Because I have a LOT of thoughts about writing. I have a lot of thoughts about most things, true, but especially about writing. I could write forever about writing, but that might not be too helpful, so, in this post, what I will try doing is to start by writing about starting writing. Which took me a lot longer than anything else in my writing ‘career’ thus far.

I’m not writing this because I think I have anything new, or special to say, but because, before I could write, what I did was read what other writers said about how they did writing. Anything and everything I could find. Repeatedly. On the matter, the most famous and prolific and prevalent are probably Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, both of whom could be described as exceptionally enabling. But not just them, no. I looked for the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter, and I searched for self-publishers who were writing, and I read author friends’ blogs about writing and anything about writing I could find.

I do think I thought there’d be a magic incantation I could recite, which would magically make writing easy, or plot possible. I figured, if I could just check with enough writers, one of them would’ve been foolish enough to let it slip.

I spent almost all of my twenties avoiding writing. Firstly, because I liked it, and I found it very difficult to ‘allow’ myself to write things. Secondly, because I didn’t have anything to write about. I couldn’t imagine any characters, I couldn’t see any stories, I had a lot to say, but it wasn’t really important, or consequential, and I couldn’t understand how I’d sit down and come up with anything even slightly original. So I didn’t. I waited. I figured, one day a story would walk up to me and say, Hi Abbi! I’m your bestseller. Would you mind sitting down here and taking dictation?

Actually, that’s not so far from what happened. It’s just, the difference is, I walked up to the story and said, would you mind telling yourself to me so I could write it down? And the stretched truth of the metaphor is, I sat down and started typing.

I’m not saying anything about the quality of what I write, or hoping to make out that I am particularly good at it; recall, I am British, and thus self-effacing and self-deprecating and still new to this idea that one must use the internet to sell oneself and one’s capabilities at all possible moments. But what I am saying is, I know how to sit down and get writing.

That’s all I did, and that’s all, it transpires, you have to do. But sitting down and starting was still ridiculously difficult! If you’re not someone who’s ever struggled to get started, then, it’s likely difficult to imagine. But, if you are, or, worse, you can sit down, but you don’t get further than a few words here or a few words there, then you know exactly what I mean. I found three ways through this.

How To Sit Down And Start Writing

1. NaNoWriMo or, National Novel Writing Month. If you haven’t heard of it, and you’ve always wanted to write a book, hie thee to their website or this book, and have at it. It’s wondrously motivating, a great community of people, and some fabulous books have come out of it. All you do is write 1,667 words a day for a month, and swim in a sea of tips and encouragement whilst you’re at it, and then, lo and behold, you have a workable first draft of something. More or less. But it’ll get you started, and over the hump.

2. But sometimes a goal alone is not enough! Sometimes you don’t want to write a novel. Sometimes you need to write a short story quickly. Sometimes you’ve got an article you have to get out, or a blog post to write, and everything you write is nonsense, or you really need to clean the kitchen floor, or you’re a useless, hopeless writer who mustn’t ever be allowed near anything that can form letters, not even rice or dust, and you need to Just. Start. Then you, my friend, need WriteOrDie which, whilst not literal, at least feels that way. I set mine to 1,000 words in 15 minutes (I am a typing demon, so this is no stretch for me – you want to have it at the very limit of your constant typing powers, with a few seconds spare for flexing away the pain) and just GO. It doesn’t matter what you write. Write about writing. Write about a blister. Write about a fox. Write about cheese. It’s amazing how many peculiar stories start to thread their way into existence if you just…type. Before you know it, you’re finding an urchin with a cheese obsession who rides a fox through a forest until it gets a blister on its paw and, you get it. And the thing about doing it in that window is that it feels like some daft game, not at all like Serious Writing, and then when you look at it later it’s quite difficult to work out where it came from at all. But it doesn’t matter where it came from: all that matters is, suddenly it’s there!

3. Perhaps this is too weird or intense. Perhaps that much typing is not fun. Perhaps you like writing with an Actual Pen. Well, here’s that thing that sometimes people talk about and often people talking about writing mention, and I’m going to mention it too because it sorta kinda works sometimes. In The Artist’s Way (not really a book I’d recommend, it’s pretty weird and quite dramatic, but this bit’s good) Julia Cameron suggests (actually, she insists) that you write ‘morning pages’ – three sides of A4, every morning, without fail. About anything or nothing. Just fill three sides of A4 with words. This is basically a low-pressure version of WriteOrDie. It does a similar thing, though, in getting the words out, and demystifying the procedure of stringing together words.

These things are also, stuck or not, things I like to do before trying to actually write any specific story, because they let me a) have something to start with, for nothing makes me find other things to do like a blank page b) see what the obvious thing to write might be, or c) discover I actually want to write about something else rather a lot.

Where do you start?

I am now trying to start my stories in the middle. It turns out that the beginning isn’t usually that important, and, if you must, you can always write a bit of it just before the end.

But where do you get the first idea from?

Open a book, start with the first word your eyes land upon. Then write another word after that, and, lo, that’s writing.

One more thing: I used to set everything up nicely. I used to think I needed a desk, a space, an hour, a rainy day, a whisky, a soundtrack, a cat, you get it. All I needed was something to write with, and somewhere to write. Everything else can be there, or not. I try, I really do, to make a point of not getting myself into a place where I need x to start, or y to continue, because that way a really clean kitchen floor and no words lies.

So, this is the start of my writing about writing. Do you write? How do you start writing? Do you have a ritual or a place for it? Even if I have figured out how I like to do things, I still never tire of hearing how other writers do these things.