Last summer, I received an e-mail from a young aspiring author. She was determined to write a novel, but was having a problem getting the story out of her head and onto paper. She asked me for some tips. Perhaps what I said to her will interest you.
Before I could offer advice, I needed information. I asked her questions like these:
- What is your actual experience when you sit down to write? Can you get the first sentence down on the page? What happens then?
- What kind of atmosphere are you working in? Do you have a quiet place where you can focus? Do you have music or a TV playing in the background? Are you interrupted by phone calls or texts? In short, are you dealing with outside distractions?
- The first step in writing is deciding what you want to say. Have you thought in advance about all the details that paint a full picture of each character, location, and event? Do you know what your characters look like, what they’re wearing, how old they are, where they live, how they spend their time? Nobody wants to read a story about stick figures. An author needs to think these things through. Are you doing that work?
- Do you have the plot all figured out? Do you know how you’re going to set up situations, create conflict, connect scenes and characters? Are you prepared to tie up loose ends? Do you have answers for all the questions your reader wants to see resolved? Have you written an outline or a summary, or are you planning to wing it?
- Is this your first serious attempt at writing fiction? Have you already written some shorter things? Understand that a novel is a huge undertaking and may take months or years to complete. Do you have the patience and commitment required?
- Are you confident about your grammar and spelling? If not, do you have good sources when you need to look something up?
Writing requires prep work — thinking, planning, decision making — before the first word goes down. Just knowing the kinds of questions to ask yourself will make the process easier.
Next time, I’ll talk about her reply and what I told her.