I have an idea for a novel, but I don’t have any idea about where to start. Can you help?
From, a Ninja Writer
Hey, Ninja Writer!
Great question. And yes, I think I can help.
The blank white page (or screen) is pretty much ubiquitous with writer struggle. It’s scary. It’s huge. It just stares back at you, daring you to mess it up.
I think there are a few reasons why starting is hard. We’re afraid of writing the wrong thing. We’re afraid we can’t do our great idea justice. Everything gets backed up behind that anxiety and we can’t pick out what to write first. We’re pretty sure someone else has already taken on this idea and they did it better.
It all boils down to self-doubt.
Remember when you were a kid? Someone would plop you down with a box of crayons and a pad of scrap paper and you’d just grab your favorite color and go to town. It wasn’t hard to create art until you got old enough to start worrying about quality.
To start writing your novel, you have to get back to that place where the creation is the point and whether or not what you create is good doesn’t really matter. (At least not until you get the first draft done and it’s time for revision.)
The thing that helps me the most is having a roadmap first. I use a system I call H2DSI or How to Develop (and test) a Story Idea. Thousands of Ninja Writers have learned how to use it too and it works really well. It works out the anxiety kinks so that you can actually put words down on that blank white page (or screen.)
H2DSI is free. You can sign up here. When you’re done with the process, which shouldn’t take more than an hour or two, you’ll have a list of inspirations, characters, settings, and five key plot points. You’ll have a much better idea about whether or not your idea is big enough to support a novel.
How to Develop + Test a Story Idea
Prepare to Turn Yourself into an Idea MACHINE!
And you’ll know where to start.
For me, H2DSI is the bare minimum of planning that I need before I start to write. There are people who are pantsers — they just start writing without anything more than an idea. I’ve done that. For a long time, I was sure that was the only way I could do things.
But then I learned to plot and I realized that I was doing that planning anyway — just in my head, not on paper. And if I did it on paper, the writing comes so much more easily.
I firmly believe that people who are true pantsers are people who have internalized the plotting process. They’re doing it without meaning to.
If you’re not sure how to start writing your book, start with plotting. I have another free class for that.
If the anxiety about starting is strong with you, here’s another trick I use. Set out to write something really terrible. I mean, really awful. Give yourself full permission to stink. Take the pressure off yourself to shine from the first word and you might find that you can actually get that word down on the page.
Remember that writing isn’t about getting a fantastic first draft out. Your story doesn’t have to be perfect right now. It’s all about getting a first draft out of you and onto the page so you have something to mold in revision.
“I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” — Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, 1966
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.