Getting Started

November 15, 2005

In January of 2004, I started work on a story I'd thought up one night before going to bed. I'd been struggling for a while with those "who am I and what am I doing" questions, and after a pointed question from someone close to me, realized that I'd never answer those questions with "I am a writer working on a novel" unless I started putting words down somewhere. So I started writing.

By the end of March, I had 24 pages of "stuff" and was running out of steam - quickly. The weather got nice, and my husband needed his own laptop too much for me to borrow it to work outside. The procrastinating started - I didn't get a word down all summer. My rationalization? I was letting the story "simmer".

In September, the psychic discomfort kicked in again. I wasn't happy with the story, I didn't know where it was going, and I hadn't written a word in over four months. It took a long time, but I finally admitted that I had no idea what I was doing.

At first, I let myself get more depressed. Who did I think I was, trying to write a story? Maybe I should just give up, cut my losses and call it a day. The options ranged from trying a different story idea to giving up writing entirely, depending on my mood.

Then I gave myself a figurative kick in the butt, and decided I needed help. Not being ready to show my writing to anyone, I picked up a few books on writing, asked for others for Christmas, and got reading. I read two books on story structure, and one on an author's experience writing.

I took a step back from the overall "getting words on paper" process, and instead I started writing character outlines and scene outlines on index cards, and asking story questions. I didn't get all the answers right away, but I started feeling like I knew where things were going again.

I signed up for a community center course called "So You Want to Write a Novel", taught by published author Laisha Rosnau. 4 weeks, 3 hours per week. It was good, because there were only two other people in the class, so lots of teacher time. For the first three weeks, we did writing exercises and discussed story structure. At the end of the third week, the teacher told us that for the fourth class, we had to prepare a story outline and a work plan that we intended to stick to.

Oh god, actually show the story idea to somebody? I. Freaked. Out.

I wrote the outline, though. I was nervous about showing it to the people in my class so beforehand, I showed it to my husband. I showed it to a friend. I got some feedback, positive and negative. I felt alright going to class with what I had. I presented it in class. I didn't die. Nobody laughed at me. While I suspect that community center classes are meant to be encouraging and don't always get you the most extensive critical feedback, I got useful ideas on how to approach writing the story and a sense that I was further along than I thought.

In February, I bought a laptop so I wouldn't be able to use the nice weather excuse to stop writing come summer. I bought a dictionary and two thesauri (thesauruses?). Then I got busy writing.

Next time: my first work plan milestone

Books read on writing during the period covered by this post:

Story, by Robert McKee

How to Grow a Novel, by Sol Stein

On Writing, by Stephen King

The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White

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