So what do you do when you have an idea for a book but no clue what to do next?
Actually, that’s a trick question. I don’t know what you should do, I just know what I did, and I have to admit to not being anywhere near an expert on this matter. However, if you’re reading this, then perhaps you’re curious what I did, so I’ll continue the story there.
Here’s what I think: you write, by writing.
I know, it’s the kind of Jedi mind trick doublethink that on the surface seems to be either deep wisdom or a trite phrase, but I think if you dig deeper, it points out an obvious truth. Writing, like anything, takes practice, so the only way to improve is by doing it.
Now, if I was the clever person that I sometimes convince myself that I am, I probably would have started writing short stories. But as I mentioned, I had the idea for a particular novel-length story, so I jumped straight into the deep end and put pen to paper.
However, even before I did that, I read a few more books for motivation and education.
On Writing by Stephen King and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
If you’re a creative sort then you have probably already read Pressfield’s work detailing the internal struggle wherein our own self-sabotage prevents us from fully realizing our artistic expression. If not, I recommend reading it and then re-reading it when the well appears to have run dry. For me, it was about half way through my journey that I had to dig deeper, and The War of Art was inspirational in that regard.
King’s book could define the genre of “self-help for fiction authors” as you can’t help but read the book and get excited about “pantsing” your way through a first draft (from “fly by the seat of your pants”). King is a strong advocate for letting characters develop themselves as the story is written, as opposed to plotting out major interactions in advance. In a sense, it removed another hurdle that could have prevented me from writing at all – analysis paralysis – so for that I’m grateful.
The Elements of Style by Strunk and Write and The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.
There are too many that I could list here, so I picked only two. Since my timeline is likely already muddled, I’ll add that you really should read Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin as well, but I think I had only read these two before I started writing.
First, the time honored and witty The Elements of Style by Strunk and White helped refresh my undergraduate-level study of the English language. But even with a fresh review, I found that I had to dedicate a good bit of time and re-work to addressing accidental mistakes. I still mess up constantly in this regard, but a little affection for the language helps close the gap over time. Here’s where I feel obligated to mention the following.
If I had my way in college, I would have taken only Science and Math courses, and in so doing, would have been greatly deprived. Thankfully, Cornell was adamant about requiring a healthy portion of English for all students. I believe their foresight gave me options which I would have had to strive mightily to acquire otherwise.
Another book that I read around this time was The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. While helping me put to words the concepts of story-telling, it also encouraged me to decompose stories that I liked into their component parts and try to understand what I valued in their telling. Why did I like Dune, Ender’s Game, or Childhood’s End? What about these stories spoke to me and thus, what kind of story did I want to tell?
That part I knew…I wanted to write a story that I’d enjoy reading.
Preamble aside, next time will be about putting pen to paper and developing a healthy writing routine.