By: Elizabeth Carlton
Writing a new book is a monumental task. Most aspiring writers struggle to make it past the beginning stages. You don’t have to be new to the trade to struggle with this process. As a published author drafting her third book, I still find myself facing the same hurdles many of my clients deal with every day.
So how do you get through the starting gate? To help my fellow writers, I put together a few common roadblocks along with some personal tips on how to overcome them.
THE BLANK PAGE PARALYSIS
You have this brilliant idea for an adventure novel. The conflict is gold, with a surprise twist at the end that will spark your readers into a tweeting frenzy. You can practically see the scenes rolling through your head like an Oscar award winning movie. You grab your coffee, slide into your plush office chair, and open up a fresh Word doc…
Only to stare at a blinking cursor for the next two hours.
So what is it that causes this blank page paralysis? More often than not, it’s a lack of development. You have the 40,000 foot view of your story, but you haven’t dug deep enough into how it will all come together. The beginning of your story is just as important as the climax. If you’re stuck on page one, ask yourself these questions:
- What will be my opening scene? Why?
- Will it capture my readers?
- What do my readers need to know before we launch into the story? (IE: previous events, past histories, details about setting, characters, races, worlds, etc.)
- How will this scene eventually lead to the story’s conflict?
These questions should be part of your outline. You don’t have to know everything down to the most minute detail, but you should have a clear idea of how your story will open, how the conflict will arise, and how it will be resolved before starting on your first page.
Also, don’t overanalyze it. This is a draft after all. If you aren’t sure about a scene, try it and see where it goes. If it doesn’t work, scrap it and start anew. You don’t have to get it right the first time around. Part of the drafting process when writing a new book is determining what works and what doesn’t.
THE FLAT CHARACTER CATASTROPHE
Bad characters make bad books. If your protagonist is putting you to sleep, it’s time to stop and reevaluate his or her development. Really take the time to build your character’s personality. Everything from backstory to dialect to personality quirks matter. You want to get to know him or her like you would your best friend. You’ll find lists online that ask generic questions such as age, name, height, hair color, etc. While those are helpful, they’re also very skeletal. Aim to dig deeper. Explore your character’s demeanor and even question why it is the way it is.
For example, if your character is an introvert, perhaps there is an event in their life that made them that way. What is it? Really know your character. The more familiar you are with him or her, the better.
However, just because you have a full biography of your character doesn’t mean you have to share everything. The planning for your book should be like an iceberg. Only about 20% of it will be revealed to your audience—that 20% being what is relevant to the story. The rest you can reserve for your own use. Consider it “research.”
THE PITFALLS OF PERFECTIONISM WHEN WRITING A NEW BOOK
Writing a new book can be daunting. Writers can find themselves spending three days agonizing over a single paragraph as they ask themselves many different questions:
Is any of this making sense?
Will readers love it or hate it?
Am I too wordy?
The simple answer? Stop it. Just write. Even if it’s terrible, don’t go back and touch it. Keep moving forward until you have a draft written from start to finish. It may be the worst thing you’ve ever written, but there’s good news: it’s called a rough draft for a reason.
No one writes a best seller on the first go-around. You will spend 20% of your time writing a draft and the remaining 80% will be editing. So relax, and just write.