Since at least high school I've wanted to write fiction, but I can't seem to get started. I have lots of ideas, and even write down notes from time to time, but whenever I sit down to write I often find myself just staring at a blank page for an hour or so. Even when I do get some words out, I'll never get more than a page or two done before I feel like I can't continue or want to start over. In 6 years all I've managed to finish is one short story, and even at the time I wasn't happy with how it turned out. Do you have any tips that can help me stay committed and finish what I start?
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Dorothy Parker famously said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” Many people glorify the life of the author with visions of (this is tongue in cheek) residing in a lofty tower, gazing over a moody countryside, a glass of sherry on the desk (or perhaps absinthe) as a muse descends from above, inspiring the writer to pen a glorious novel or poem out of thin air.
Writing is a bitch. It takes discipline, hard work, and the ability to face criticism after criticism without slinking into a corner and crying like a little puppy (my novel got 50 rejections before it was published). Many people want to write, and many people have told me they have “great ideas” for stories they will happily give me, and all I have to do is write it out for them. O ... M ... G ....
Reverie (cool writer’s name btw), you are making the common mistake of sitting down at a desk or in an easy chair, taking out pen and paper (or laptop), looking at the blank page, and hoping something miraculous will happen. As you discovered, it doesn’t work that way.
But! There is hope! Here are a few strategies that have worked for me and other writers.
1) Outline your story. There is no correct way to do this, but you have to know where you’re going if you’re going to get there. When I wrote my novel, I knew how it would begin and how it would end, and I knew all the characters. The fun was filling in the middle, but I couldn’t have done that if I didn’t know where it was all leading. Other authors are a lot more thorough, outlining every single chapter, figuring out timelines, and more. You can be thorough or rather sketchy, but you do need to outline.
2) Set yourself a daily goal. Whether it is a chapter, a couple pages, or a few paragraphs, make yourself write at least a little bit every day. Stick to that goal. No excuses.
3) Get rid of the inner critic. A big reason for writer’s block is criticizing everything you put down on paper, scribbling out a page only to wad it up and throw it in the trash, over and over. Writers are their own worst enemies this way. You aren’t as awful as you think you are! Just write it down! Then check out Number 4 below.
4) Revise Revise Revise! You can take off a lot of pressure on yourself simply by realizing that if you write a page that is garbage, or that later doesn’t work in the story, or later, as you have written yourself way into the story you realize you should have put something in earlier, you can always add or subtract! No one writes the perfect page the first time (well, except maybe Mozart, but that was music, not prose), and it doesn’t matter because you can revise it! Unlike a sculptor who, if he accidentally chips off a nose can’t put it back, you can! Words are completely malleable, even more so now that everything is written on a computer screen and you don’t even need white out.
5) Research. You might be having trouble because you keep pausing in your story, wondering how something might work in real life, or if you have the history correct. A good way to avoid such stallings is to do a lot of research before you write. Get a good idea how things work. For instance, if you are writing a fantasy novel, you can read up on Medieval dress, customs, armor, equestrian terms and so on. Doing this might even give you ideas for your story.
6) Join a writers’ group. Seeing what others have done, having your own work critiqued, and sharing experiences with others like yourself can help inspire you to write.
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