I recently attended a party of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Tribe, a band of women who love adventure travel, who gathered to discuss plans for the next big, daring escapade. The Sisterhood is an evolving community of sixteen women with a core group of eight or so who among other adventures have sailed the Aegean and Mediterranean seas off the coast of Turkey, hiked the magical Old Mountain, better known as Machu Picchu in Peru and experienced the vast history and culture of India from the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort of the Mogul Empire to the funeral pyres on the west bank of the Ganges river in Varanasi.
When we gathered, my friend Becky, a founding member of the travel group, asked for advice on starting her novel. She made me the resident expert on book writing due to the advent of my upcoming novel to be published by Pen-L Publishing in early 2016.
To respond to Becky’s request, I will add blog entries to encourage her to develop the novel she has already written. She just doesn’t have it in novel form yet.
The Blank Computer Screen
Many people, successful writers included, fear a blank page. It’s as if that pristine page on the computer transforms into a monster capable of devouring the person intending to create fiction. Even the most loquacious person, one who never loses a chance to jump into the middle of a juicy conversation, or an eloquent, witty and charming personality will shrink at the task of starting a story. Our monster gathers strength and guzzles down the words, ambition and discipline of writers, those writers whose brains normally spill creativity like a cloudburst over parched land. But as soon as an empty page faces them, their creativity fizzles.
So how should we begin?
Instead of starting a story, begin in the middle. All fiction is borrowed from life, even the most intimate biography includes only what the author wants to say. Partly we don’t need to know every nitty, gritty detail or even want to know, like when the character goes to the bathroom, unless of course, it’s a telling personality trait such as Lyndon Johnson’s habit of taking reporters and aides into the bathroom with him so he could talk as he conducted his other business seated on the ubiquitous toilet. His biographers cannot exclude such crude details if they are to convey the true picture of his life.
By starting in the middle, writers can use notes or ideas they’ve already written in their journals and paste them on that empty page, play with them, get lost in the thoughts expressed in those pieces and before you know it, you have backed the monster into oblivion. The story often starts to flow at this point since it waits in the person’s mind, for years sometimes, until it is coaxed onto that empty space of a page.
By writing a part of the novel other than the beginning, the writer can return to the beginning and proceed to write the first few paragraphs and convey in much richer detail what the novel or story is about and you are well on your way.
Now it’s your turn to say what works for you! Share your thoughts with us.
Photograph of Machu Pucchu by Brenda Gottlieb, Travel Photographer