Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How to Begin

Simple. Begin by holding a pen to paper, or sitting at your computer, hands atop the keyboard.
Two of my favorite quotes are from authors, ancient and contemporary, who teach a no-excuses approach. The Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “If you wish to be a writer, write.” Great advice. In modern terms, just do it. Contemporary author Barbara Kingsolver is even less forgiving: “Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.” In other words, don’t wait for inspiration to strike you. Begin writing and keep on writing. Even if you throw away half of what you write, it’s a starting point. There may be some raw gems in the mud. Once you polish them, they’re worth all the effort.
Keep a pen and pad in your briefcase or purse, and another in your nightstand by your bed. Some nights, I’ll be nearly asleep when an idea pops into my head. Annoying that it couldn’t come at a more convenient time, yes, but be thankful for ideas whenever they strike you.
At the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer’s Conference in Allentown, Pa., last year, writer Regina McBride advised us to meditate before a writing session. Not passive meditation, but actively imagine a setting from your story. Imagine the protagonist in that setting. What is s/he doing? Wearing? Is s/he with someone? What are they doing? Saying? Some vivid setting details can emerge, as well as dialogue and character traits.
Other writers say exercise helps get their creative juices flowing.
For writing practice, try John Vorhaus’ Creativity Rules! This workbook steps you through the phases of story development and provides exercises at each level. Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction is a classic. Specifically for romance writers, Leigh Michaels’ On Writing Romance is a great resource. David Michael Kaplan’s Revision: A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction is great for getting to that final draft. Writing teachers will tell you: the real story comes through in the revision.
For inspiration, I love Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is another classic.
Reading and writing go hand in hand. In addition to how-to texts, read as many novels and stories by authors you admire. 18 great Free Reads are available on the Wild Rose Press site: http://www.thewildrosepress.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=180&zenid=713d0b1c4dd204077fe18873cc10dbb1
I don’t believe there’s any set formula or practice. If there were, it would be for sale, and I’d be first in line.

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