Blog Entry #15: Writing Advice-Motivation #3, Beginnings

If you’re at that point where motivation isn’t a problem, if you’re sitting down and actually working on your writing, that’s a good sign. But there’s another issue that can come up after your research and worldbuilding, after you’ve poured yourself a cup of coffee or opened an energy drink or taken a swallow of whiskey. The beginning of your story.

For some people, writing the beginning of the story is part of the problem linked to motivation. They have the entire thing (or most of it) in their head, playing like a movie. You see your heroes and your villains duking it out, you have a few quotes in your head, and you’ve outlined a few pivotal scenes (or at least thought about them). So you sit down to right, and nothing comes out. Not because of a lack of motivation, but because starting the story—just writing the opening sentence or paragraph—is suddenly daunting. Why is this? You know what your story is. You know that you want to get going. But the intimidation and anxiety caused by the opening sentence, paragraph, or pages is just nagging you. So you quit your word document and watch Netflix or go to sleep.

Okay take a deep breath. There are a few ways to alleviate the issue of beginning. One is, to pretend like the rest of your story doesn’t exist. Just do this for a moment. Stop thinking about how boring the opening is and refuse the urge to info dump (as we all want to do). Those things will come in time. Write an opening hook, then develop something at the beginning. Pretend the first few pages or the first chapter is a short story. Allow it to be a seed, then germinate. Let it grow from there.

Another way to handle it is to skip the beginning, at least for a time. On at least two novels I’ve written I didn’t write the beginning until I had finished my entire first draft. Sometimes you don’t even think of what the beginning should be until you’ve fleshed out the rest of the story. You don’t have to start in the middle or anything like that, but start writing one of the scenes you like, and if it becomes what you want, build on it, either toward the future or the past. Write a chapter before it, write a chapter after it. Sort of like the ‘Ignore it’ rule, you can jump from one important chapter to the next, and then worry about fleshing out those other chapters later. This way you are actually writing, which is what you want.

To get over the anxiety of motivation you often have to destroy the idea of perfection. For many of us, we want to make it big. Or, you just want to impress the people reading your work. Or, you want to write something that’s worth talking about. And you think that if it isn’t perfect out of the gate, it’s not worth it. The secret is: no author in the history of time has written a perfect first draft. It just doesn’t happen. There doesn’t have to be rewriting, but there is always fidgeting and fiddling. Neil Gaiman himself said he often detests looking at his own past works because he can find a problem on every page, and Brian K. Vaughan doesn’t like to read his own works because he can’t stand his own writing. These are people who have made it, and have been working on their craft for years.  So you don’t have to worry about perfection, you just have to worry about putting the words on the page.

Sigh. Beginnings. It’s about half motivation and half anxiety of imperfection. I’m sure there’s many other ideas and faults wrapped around beginnings as well. But they don’t have to be terrifying, they can be fun. Cut yourself some slack and do something strange, if you can’t think of how to write what you wanted to write. Kill someone early. Write an outburst. Make some sort of decisive, strange action to pull the action along. Your delete key is right there, so play around a little. You might find that your story turns into something entirely different than what you first thought.