A lot of people ask me this question: “How do you know what to write?” and they seem genuinely interested in the answer. The trouble is…there is no straight-forward answer and certainly nothing that would satisfy their longing for a concrete answer.
The one thing that this type of question does for me, is promote thought on that subject, which is an effective tool in the writing process. It forces analysis on the development behind writing and sparks new ideas.
So, how do I know what to write? Writing for each writer must be different and there are a variety of factors that affect the way a writer approaches this. To sit down to a blank page and begin writing a new story is a most exciting yet nerve-wracking moment. It also depends on what you’re hoping to write, so if I am writing a sequel, then I will obviously go back and re-read the last few chapters of the previous book. Often then, ideas will start to trickle into the mind like tiny, coloured gemstones of insight, but only one or two ideas will capture my interest. At this point, I will start to write something, anything within the scope of those ideas and the rest will emerge as I am writing. Sometimes the ideas come much faster than I can type as my brain is ‘typing the story’ slightly ahead of my fingers.
Short-stories sound easy but can be quite tricky to paint the picture and then to finally bring it all together in a limited set of words.
If I am beginning a new piece of work, then this is actually a lot easier, as there is no theme I must conform to, no characters to remember and no preconceived backgrounds to follow. I often start the process by thinking about a particular subject and vague storyline that I might enjoy writing about. When I began to write Isobel’s Dream, for instance, the idea came to me quite out of the blue. I was in the middle of a massive rewrite of the fourth book in the Conwy series, Galen’s Child. I was in bed one Saturday morning with a cup of tea hubby had brought me, and had my lap-top on checking my emails, when the two dogs next door began their daily yapping at the back door. I growled down at them (from my place on the bed), and they stopped for all of two seconds then took up the mantle for several long minutes. I had a bit of a rant to hubby and sat in silence very caught up with a fantasy of pegging them up to the clothesline by their short tails, and me saying, ‘Go on, bark now you naughty creatures!’ The dogs in question are of course, quite cute but barking is just something that has always irritated the hell out of me – even when we had our own dog. In frustration, I opened a Word Document, with the view of penning down my fantasy – hoping it would make me feel marginally better. But what actually happened was that the story took on a life of its own, because out of loyalty to my neighbour, I did not want to name names or have anything to identify her or the pooches and so made up Isobel and her neighbour, Findlay the absent-minded, semi-famous author. The ease of the flow quite surprised me as did the development of the characters and at times (as I often feel when writing), I felt these people were real and had a life of their own.
To the new writer looking for advice on how to begin writing, is simply, start writing down anything that comes to mind because the beauty of the digital word is that you can rearrange and edit and cut later with ease. Rarely does the first part you write stay first anyway and often a writer will either rewrite or add a completely new opening paragraph anyway, for, aside from the blurb on the back cover, the first paragraph becomes the most important part of the book.
My book, Writing was the Easy Part, which is on sale via Smashwords and all the main ebook distributors online, has helpful tips on writers block which could also be used for the beginning of a book.