Friday, October 03, 2008

How Do You Begin?

“I always do the first line well, but I have trouble doing the others.” - Moliere, from The Ridiculous Precieuses

My quest to fall in love with a new book project has made me think about how I stumbled upon the idea for my last one. I've been in an on-line writing practice group since July 1997. On October 24, 2004, I wrote the following opening lines on the topic, "This is What I Know:"

Normal people would have rallied around a bottle of Jack Daniels or resigned themselves to a lifetime of platinum drips to prolong the inevitable. But we were not normal people. My father was not a normal man.

When I reread the full 10-minute piece, I knew it had the makings of a book. Dad’s death. My depression. Our golf. Three topics intertwined. Even though it wouldn't be a novel, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) and used the month-long structure to pull the material out of me. During November 2004, I wrote 50,000 words about my father and golf. Each day I pulled up a memory and wrote 2,000 words not stopping to figure out how the pieces went together. Of that original writing practice, not one complete sentence remains in the book, but it gave me the doorway into the project. That’s what I’m looking for again - an opening.

Now I have two projects, a novel and a memoir, vying for my attention. I alternate working on them. For the novel, I look forward to NaNoWriMo again this November. With the memoir, I’m using the free novel-writing software yWriter. I hadn’t discovered yWriter when I began the last book, but it proved exceedingly helpful to plot the NaNoWriMo mess after I'd written it. This time I’m attempting to plot both books before I begin the writing. I find this awkward. There may indeed be two types of writers: those who plot before they write and those who plot after. Ignoring the strong possibility that I might be an after-the-fact plotter, I’m creating chapters and scene descriptions, trying to make something vaguely resembling a three-act play.

I don’t have a complete answer to the question, “How do you begin?” So I’d love to hear your input. Please let me know how you begin a writing project. I imagine there are as many methods as there are writers.

(c)Nita Sweeney, 2008, all rights reserved
 
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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi, I liked your article here very much. It opened my eyes, so true, the nanowrimo challenge is just to make us start writing and if that's about yourself as a bio why not? this just makes you write those 50,000 and at the end of a month we can decide if we'll keep it if it is usable or not. i dont know but it made a click and I will try it myself as well. thanks

Sea Change said...

Hi Nita!
For what it's worth--I can't even think "begin"-- especially if it's followed by "big project" or "book-length manuscript". So I just play with exercises, ideas, short pieces, practice, and out of these things--as you have seen for yourself--something exciting may arise. Then I follow that trail. And it's my hope that enough of these "trails" will connect and that larger work emerge (I have yet to see this happen but I still believe it's possible!). Don't know how useful this is for anyone else. As you said, there are probably as many ways as there are writers. The thing is to keep writing and you get closer.
Best!
Shelagh