In the last few weeks I've made a push to get more people reading this blog, and in the process, received many congratulations (thank you!) from people who hinted that they, also, have entertained the possibility of starting a book or novel someday.
For those of you harboring similar aspirations --- we'll call it the "large writing project itch" --- let me encourage you by first confirming the obvious: Starting is the hardest part.
Seriously. And I'm not talking in terms of having your plot mapped out or your characters thought out or finding your voice. All that will come. And I'm not talking developing your idea sufficiently before actually starting, because in my opinion, if you have an idea that you think could take the form of a book, you have enough fodder to begin writing one.
Here, I'm talking about the only hurdle to writing your first book that really matters, which is confidence and motivation --- the simple act of putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard, writing the first words, paragraphs and pages of a single continuous narrative, and (this is the important part) fighting through the feelings of disgust and loathing over what you have written, the voices urging you to stop and scrap.
Before going on let me acknowledge that some people thrive on setting goals and deadlines when writing a first book --- just look at the crazies at National Novel Writing Month. Even if you don't go that extreme, setting rigid deadlines may be the best path for you. This absolutely did not work for me. When I first started writing my novel I vowed I would finish in a year. It took me two years and a lot of guilt to even start getting out of that mindset.
Try setting deadline for yourself (e.g. a novel in one year), or imposing similar structure (like 2 hours per day, or one page per day, etc), if that feels right to you. Give it a real chance, a couple months perhaps, but don't get discouraged if it doesn't work out the way you'd hoped. There's another way, the Jim way, and you can switch over any time. Or if deadlines, even self-imposed ones, scare the shit out of you, you can adopt my philosophy right away! Here it is.
A first chapter, especially of a first book, will almost certainly suck --- I base this theory on personal experience of course and I elaborate here.
In writing my first chapter, I now realize what I was really doing was laying a foundation --- in fiction, laying a foundation may mean introducing a few characters, an environment, a catalyzing event; in non-fiction you may be articulating a thesis statement, outlining points of argument, setting a context. The point is, my second chapter was superior to the first, and not because twenty pages of writing practice improved my style (style improves more gradually than that). No, it's because the first 20 pages, shitty as they were, supported what came after. I had context, I had greater focus, I could even identify some semblance of "voice" that I tried to keep consistent.
In short, I had direction --- I went from trying to swim a straight line in an ocean, to swimming down a wide river, still overwhelmed, but at least I could measure my progress a little.
Part  
The Savior Complex
3 weeks ago