Today’s guest blogger is editor and author Jerry L. Wheeler. I first met Jerry several years ago online as a book reviewer. He has read and reviewed some of my work and also been a helpful beta reader for me and I have since had the pleasure of reading some of his work in progress. You can find Jerry online here. Jerry also runs the fantastic review blog Out in Print.
Jerry L. Wheeler
Starting is tough. Ending is tough, too. Come to think of it, the middle is a long slog too, but nothing is as difficult as the start. It all springs from there. It’s the point of entry for the readers, the characters, the reviewers, and those know-it-alls on Goodreads. That’s why it has to be right. It has to be true. It has to be the best it can possibly be.
Intimidated? Of course you are. Sadly, I have no advice for you—no panacea, no formula, no handy clickbait-driven “10-Ways-to-Start-Your-Novel” listicle. You can, however, be consoled by the fact that your fear alone will make your start a better one. You’re conscious of what you need to accomplish and how important it is, so you’re not just going to put something down for the sake of having words on paper. At least I hope you’re not.
Because doing that can send you off in the wrong direction. You might notice that by the end of the page, or you might not notice it until you’re 10,000 words in and you’ve totally run out of steam. You’ve run headlong up a blind alley and are staring a brick wall in the face because you didn’t look carefully at the scenery before choosing a direction in which to run. You have to go back and do it again. Think carefully about the landscape, choose action or character instead of backstory or an info dump, hold your breath, and…start.
There really is no other way.
Once you’ve started, however, you must prepare yourself for the second major consequence of starting a writing project. Know from this point on that your life will—either wholly or in large part—become consumed by what you’ve started. Gone are the leisurely weekday lunches with friends. Say goodbye to movies and television—you’ll never get a Pulitzer (or even a Lammy) bingewatching American Horror Story instead of plodding through Chapter Four. And you won’t have time for yard work or cooking. You’re writing a damn novel. If you’re partnered with someone other than a cat, dog, or goldfish, however, writing as an excuse for ditching yard work or your share of the chores will depend entirely on your partner’s patience. See the fine print on your relationship warranty and remember, your mileage may vary.
You might also want to prepare those around you for a certain fuzzy distractedness in your interactions with them. Writing does not just take place at the keyboard. Dialogue, snatches of plot or a nifty bit of characterization may well fall into your head at less than opportune times. Learn to say “what?” in a variety of languages. Embrace this eccentricity and feel no remorse about asking Starbucks employees, bus drivers, or complete strangers with suspicious looks on their faces for a pencil or pen because “I just have to get this down…” You can thank them all at the awards podium. If you remember.
But first you have to start. So, put on those noise-cancelling headphones, remove the cat from the keyboard, breathe deeply…and start.
See you in a few months.