Like I alluded to last week, I’m always striking a kind of balance when I communicate with you guys online.
On the one hand, if I don’t post every week or so, some people forget about me or start getting antsy and sending me messages asking what I’m doing.
But the reality is that the less you hear from me, the more productive I’m being. When I have free time, THAT’S when I check Facebook and screw around online.
However! These last few days, I’ve been blazing through OKAK far faster than expected, so I get to reward myself with some Internet time and the chance to press my forehead against the bars of my cell and wonder what the sun used to look like.
A while ago I did a post on coming up with names, and in October I wrote about one technique I use for developing magic systems.
This week, I said I’d talk some more about my writing process, and I wasn’t sure how to narrow that down. Most of the general writing advice has been covered to death by far better writers than me, so I wanted something that I had at least somewhat of a unique perspective on (and something that I could address in just a few paragraphs).
Ultimately, I decided to address the number one problem I see new writers (especially fantasy writers) facing: they don’t know how to start writing their book.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: you have a fantasy novel you’ve been working on in your head for years. It’s going to be brilliant. You just have to make sure that all the character arcs are fully defined and in place, and you’re good to go.
But you want to make sure that these arcs are in line with your themes. And how could you possibly start writing in a world when you haven’t finished building it yet? You know there’s an elf kingdom, but you don’t even know who its founding king was!
On and on it goes, and you draw and re-draw the map, and you come up with backstories of your main characters. Maybe you write the first twenty thousand words and it doesn’t come out like you imagine it, so you start over, but this time you have a clear vision for it.
This is what I wanted to address today, because it’s a problem I see people make at least as much as anything else.
They think they’re writing a fantasy novel, but they’re not.
People get stuck in planning, especially world-building, for years. It goes around and around and around in their heads, shifting and evolving but never taking shape.
There are a number of reasons for it. Coming up with ideas is fun, but hammering them into an effective story is hard. And it can be hard to know when you’re ready to stop planning and start writing, because planning is important.
Fortunately, if this is you, I have a solution. I was going to say something snappy like “Just write the book,” but that’s more glib than helpful. So here’s the question to ask yourself:
What is the minimum I need to know before I can start writing?
In my personal experience from struggling out of this mental trap over and over again, you have to stop thinking about the first draft of a story taking place after you’re done planning it. The first draft is part of the planning process, and anything that happens in the first draft can be fixed later.
I will say, there are some things you do need to know before you start writing. What’s your plot? I mean, is this “A lonely beautician starts robbing banks in the hopes that one of the cops coming to arrest her will be the man of her dreams,” or is this “A humble kobold’s attempts to pretend to be a real dragon go too far when his fake persona is elected the Dragon King”?
Once you have your one- or two-sentence plot to guide you, then you do need a sense of how it falls out. There are far better story structure gurus than I, but the point is that you don’t need a detailed beat-by-beat understanding of every scene in your book to start writing. You just need to know the general shape of what’s going to fall out.
Then you need to answer the necessary questions that will help you start writing. If you think the scene should open on a couple arguing in a cafe, for instance, you need the names of the two people in the couple and the name of the café.
Don’t get bogged down in details. Remember, what is the minimum you need to know before you can start writing?
Then write until the end.
There are some things you’ll run into that you won’t know, so make them up. Or put a note and go back to them later. I wrote an entire draft of Ghostwater in which Ziel, the tired old man in a young man’s body, was basically an energetic Ash Ketchum.
But that was okay, because anything in the first draft can be changed. You’re just trying to lock down the shape of the story and figure out which of your ideas are good enough to carry the book and which don’t matter.
I’ve heard it said this way: if writing is like making pottery, then writing the first draft is creating your lump of clay.
Asking this question might be the key to stopping your procrastination-disguised-as-planning and starting you writing.
Caveat: People write in different ways. If you plan and plan and then when you’re finished, you stop planning and diligently move on to writing, good for you! Ignore me. But if that describes you, know that I have found people like you to be extraordinarily rare.
12/6/2019 06:15:33 pm
Solid advice... my “book” has never reached 3000 words due to exactly what you described! Thanks for the time put into thinking out this post.
12/6/2019 06:23:26 pm
What a great blog about how to stop procrastinating, that I read while I'm supposed to be studying for my law school finals. Whoops. Actually, I wanted to say thank you to Will for writing great books. Listening to Cradle on audiobook during the course of the semester gave me a lot of motivation to keep studying.
12/6/2019 07:18:19 pm
Here might have been a good place to mention you have Ziel short story that just came out in an anthology. Well, not here as in the comments. You know, here as in your blog.
12/7/2019 09:48:13 am
Haha, I was thinking the same thing. Quite the stealth release from Will!
12/8/2019 07:25:53 pm
There's a Ziel story in an anthology somewhere? Any chance of a link or title details? :-)
12/6/2019 07:46:24 pm
Great insight, thank you!
12/6/2019 08:29:21 pm
I read Terry Brooks' Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life years ago. If I recall correctly, when asked about his writing process he talked about how he maps out every last little detail so that he only has to write a single draft and he's done. Shortly after saying that a female member of the panel he was on exclaimed that she does the complete opposite - she jumps on her typewriter (computer?), bashes out a draft then continues to draft and redraft until she culminates with the final polished version. You have to spend a lot of time either planning or redrafting, the only question is which side suits you. Odds are most people will fall somewhere in the middle.
12/6/2019 09:53:25 pm
What I heard was "the true work of writing begins after the first draft."
12/11/2019 04:48:32 pm
Please put the bong down and listen
Sword Immortal Darknorth
12/7/2019 07:08:36 am
Great post Will! I wish I had this three years ago.
12/8/2019 07:15:34 pm
"A humble kobold’s attempts to pretend to be a real dragon go too far when his fake persona is elected the Dragon King”?
12/10/2019 11:40:54 am
I second that
11/2/2020 04:40:57 am
Who knew dragons were so democratic
12/9/2019 08:04:21 am
Read the writing review and now I can only think "how can I get that draft of Ash Ketchum like Ziel..."
The Wandering Stranger
12/9/2019 08:36:43 am
I spend a long time writing my 50,000 (and counting) word saga, but starting a book comes easy for me. It's harder to continue writing at an efficient pace then to start a novel. Some novels that never get written are because authors can't start. More novels die in the first few chapters.
12/10/2019 05:11:46 am
Will, I'm just finishing "City of Light," the last of your books I was able to purchase through Audible. I read "Unsouled," and purchased everything I could find. I see now that both series are not available anymore on Audible. I'm SO glad I got 'em all!
12/10/2019 10:49:42 am
Good advice, but what about those of us who can start it but can't finish it.
Sha Miara, Who Has Been Publicly Congratulated by Will Wight for her Subnautica playing skills
12/11/2019 01:06:17 pm
I've never been able to write out a story of my own. Erotic x/x fanfiction, yes I've gotten up to 40,000 words before I broke down and couldn't write any more. Original stories though I just can't make work for some reason.
12/11/2019 04:51:53 pm
Gay erotica is not really my thing but 40,000 thousands words is impressive. I'm a science guy so my best is about 500 words.
12/14/2019 04:42:10 pm
This will be of great use in writing my fanfiction. Please rate my premise:
12/18/2019 08:54:19 am
Sorry buddy, that's plagiarism. Can't copy other people's ideas (sacred artist, Northstrider) to write your own story. It's actually illegal and you can be sued for it.
12/18/2019 06:58:57 pm
What a shame. I guess my fanfiction was aborted before I'd even started. I read Will's post in vain.
12/18/2019 05:49:55 pm
Will, for your next deathmatch, I request an Eithan vs Roomba battle.
12/18/2019 07:06:14 pm
Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker review when?
12/19/2019 07:01:54 pm
Just rereading Cradle and wondering, has Lindon started a 3rd path? Cradle sets the premise that one path is hard, two is something most people avoid because it's ridiculously hard. With his 'Hungry Arm' though isn't Lindon almost starting a third path, perhaps one akin to Northstriders? True he's still running and working on 2 cores, but if his arm automatically consumes madra then could it be a 'cheat' method to fast track a third core? Perhaps he won't have time to dedicate to a third path, but if he adapted his current techniques to the 'Hunger Path' and primarily relied on his arm to boost his core, mightn't that be something of a hidden weapon he can pull out if the Black Flame and Pure paths don't quite work against a foe?
1/13/2021 05:39:47 pm
Excellent tips and advice. All the content on this page is useful in my writing project in the future. One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.
Leave a Reply.
Of the Cradle series
Want to get short stories and book releases before anyone else? Sign up below!
Hey, what about those short stories you claim to have already written?
Apparently they're kept here!