My first blog post – ever – and the title sounds a bit trite. But stick with me. I have people, really intelligent, dynamic people whose brilliant brains are buzzing with fantastic ideas, say to me all the time, “How did you actually write your book? I have this great idea, but I just can’t seem to really get started.”
Well, they are further along than I was for a long time. In my twenties I just had a lot of pretty descriptions, thoughtful phrases and half-baked ideas buzzing, albeit incessantly buzzing, in my head. I had scraps and pages of pretty sentences and nothing very concrete. (I remember getting into a very exclusive creative writing workshop in college on my twinkling sample and then being pulled aside by my professor mid semester, his disappointment clear on his face.) I wasn’t producing!
And then one day (one decade and a graduate degree in psychology later, I might add), I had a story I wanted to tell. Had to tell. I could really see it. Feel it. I knew it involved a woman who was sexually rejected by her husband. I wasn’t going to let this one go, half-baked. Now, during this time, my very talented husband was in screenwriting school at UCLA. I have to say, I had a serious vicarious education in structure while he worked his butt off on his masters. I remember him saying a scene needs to drive the film forward. (Now we are talking linear films here, not art house. Art house – is that a term anymore – equals no rules.) And my story was not experimental – so this rule really applied.
That was my aha moment. Who is my character and where do they need to go?
Simply put: What is my beginning, middle and end?
And I mean simply put: Elizabeth wanted to try on a new hat – that of seductress to attract her husband, who had shown little to no interest during the short time they had been married. I knew she was going to buy some mildly naughty lingerie – which was stepping way out of her comfort zone, and then I knew she was going to be rejected and splintered by this rejection. Ta da! (To be honest, hindsight is 20/20. Maybe I didn’t even know quite that much – but I knew where she started and where she ended up.)
Each of those pieces were like scenes that needed to get her from point A to point B. Writing individual scenes – puzzling out how your character has to traverse a situation, is fun! And so much less daunting than a whole book that is twirling and swirling in that fantastic brain of yours. I’ve come around to outlines for novels, but even that is daunting. First things first. Beginning, middle and end. Here’s the thing – all of these things can be changed as you go. But at least this will get you on the playing field. If you don’t need this advice and just like to improvise – do it! This post, not so much for you.
The photo is from a recent trip to the Mayacamas Ranch, a sublime spot in the mountains of Calistoga. A place to get your soul together, gather ideas and inspiration.