When I think back to those first days of beginning my novel, I recall a familiar message being delivered to me over and over again. It came as posts on social media land, as a main theme in the books and articles I was reading, as encouragement from my husband, and as a whisper in my spirit that started gently and increased to such a din that I couldn’t ignore it any longer. The message was two words and needed no extrapolation:
Just start, Claire. There it was. The idea for my novel had been brewing in my mind for a couple of years already. Characters had subconsciously developed faces and mannerisms. The setting was painted against the inside of my eyelids. It needed to be beckoned out of my brain and spilt onto some white space somewhere: a notebook, a spreadsheet, a document. But like a kitten in a drain, I had to coax it out, reassure it that the light out here was better than the murky comfort of darkness in there, and that emerging would only open up a world of wonder.
I’m a great believer in timing. There’s a right and a wrong time for everything. And it was early last year that I recognised that the time was ripe for my novel. So, in February 2020, I finally listened to all those “Just write” messages.
And I did.
Start writing, no matter what.Louis L’Amour
The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.
How? you might ask. Where did you begin?
I began using the fumbling, clueless, no-idea-what-I’m-doing method. First, I did a bit of character research. Abandoned that. Tried plotting the whole book on a spreadsheet, chapter by chapter. Found that completely strangled my creativity. Read a few novels. Stopped reading novels, because I was afraid I’d end up copying them. Stalked authors on Instagram to find out how they write their books. Ultimately I ditched the lot of it and found my own way.
I’m a journalist. I’m used to working to deadlines, often daily deadlines. So that’s how I began, with a daily goal of writing 1,000 words. That’s not very much. But on days when I was home-schooling the kids during Covid lockdown, or when paid writing work came in, or I was feeling flat or uninspired, it was more than enough. Sometimes I wrote more, but I rarely wrote less.
The other essential of my writing day was to begin with calm, in the presence of the source of creativity. Pausing before writing was like hydrating before a run. The flow of energy and ideas out of this spiritual comma was a life lesson that I will devote a whole post to soon. So hold the weighty substance of this practice until I return to it.
Some other things I did that helped me dive in…
- While I was doggedly dedicated to my word count, there were a few periods of grace. School holidays, for example. Or during sickness. Or if progressing the storyline required a stint of research. There had to be some grace periods.
- I gave myself the weekends off. Disconnecting for family and other forms of creativity kept things fresh.
- I kept myself accountable by sharing my writing progress on my social media pages. I know this isn’t going to be everyone’s jam, but for me it’s been a joy to share the journey with my people. They have encouraged me and in turn I’ve been able to give them insights into the making of a book. In the back of my mind was the knowledge that publishers today look at how active an author is online… so there’s that too!
Do you have a work percolating and you are sensing that the time is right to begin? I encourage you, as the world is likely already saying to you: just write. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, it just has to be written. Or spoken. Or danced. Or painted. Just start, for goodness sake! I’m cheering you on.