Supporting Your Writing Life, Uncategorized, Writing Advice

How To Start A Project (before you know plot, POV, or characters’ personalities)

Day 6 of Camp NaNoWriMo

My writing sucks. The characters aren’t behaving like themselves. My prose is flat, unimaginative, but worst of all? I can’t figure out whose eyes I want the reader to see through.

We’ve all been there.

You’ve heard me say it before and I will say it again—perfectionism is a plague that follows all creative people. It can be especially challenging for those of us who have anxiety, who get so locked up in the fear of “standards” that our brains go numb, our ideas dry up (or are so plentiful, we have no hope of narrowing them down to a coherent plot—so what’s the point of trying?) and we decide pursuing our dreams to put imaginary people on paper is just too. damn. tiring.

But I challenge you to stop and be real for a moment. We’re making people and cultures and entire worlds out of thin air. This is not an easy job.

Today I’d like to offer you a glimpse into my new writing style—and I don’t mean the cool ‘my writing sounds great’ kind of style.

This has been my method:

  1. Write furiously in short bursts; at least a hundred words in a sitting, but take no longer than 10 minutes. (I’ve been writing by hand a lot. Adjust to fit your typing speed.)
  2. Put down whatever comes to mind, even if it’s in the wrong POV, tense, or sounds ridiculous.
  3. Read over what you have written and underline your favorite sentences (if there’s nothing that trips your trigger yet, keep writing! Get at least 1 good sentence in for the day.)
  4. Stop as soon as your brain turns to mush. If you get tired, anxious, or hard on yourself, then it’s time to quit. Short and sweet is the trick; enjoy writing again.

Sometimes it’s better to stop right before your brain feels like it’s been through the blender. Leaving your work on a ‘high note’ to take a break for chores, walking the dog, or getting a drink can keep your brain fresh and excited to return to what you were in the middle of creating.

Here’s an example from my current WIP for Camp NaNoWriMo. The POV character is Clyde, an android, and I’d like you to note how I change from first person to third, and past tense to present. I keep changing things up, letting my creative mind work it out as I go, while I just listen. I listen to myself, to my own thought process, and I trust my subconscious mind to work it out later—but not while I’m drafting.

I circled round the shack to the rusty scrap-metal heap I’d noted on our way into the ranger camp. Tiny blue bellflowers were growing from the tangle of car tire rims, tractor frames, and more than a few broken-down bicycles. The heap was as knotted as a bundle of wires. While Clyde rummages the pile, his back is to the dark open field. It stretches for acres behind him like a yawning gulf in a fathomless ocean full of secret things moving in the cover of darkness. His sensors prickle with heightened awareness, alerting him of every shift in the lazy evening breeze and the half-degree change in air temperature. 
/// TK [scare of animal–introduce new cryptid]

(note: TK stands for “to come” and is a great place-marker for details, scenes, or dialogue you don’t feel like writing yet.)

Now I have a great big mess of words. But they’re interesting words, aren’t they? Especially that last part; it’s isn’t quite right, but it intrigues me. This ramble blocks in some details, something is happening, and it doesn’t matter that it’s meandering pointlessly because it is enough for my conscious mind to work with when I’m good and ready. Later on, I’ll structure it, add some drama (a cryptid coming toward Clyde from the wide-open field, probably,) and then decide if it actually serves the plot.

Final Thought

We all write sh**ty first drafts. So why not “let your hair down” and make it really, really messy? There’s no point in laboring over the details when the details will change many, many times before your novel is complete. Have some fun splattering paint-filled balloons on the canvas. Some of the colors will mix and turn to mud, but others will be shockingly bright and vivid and may even surprise you. “I wrote that?” you’ll think. You expected it all to be an awful mess, but look, you have so many bright gemstones peeking out of the the sand and, like a child on an ocean beach, you’ll get to collect them and string them all together to make something wonderful.

Now go write.

RJ

Copy of how to waste time in your novel

10 thoughts on “How To Start A Project (before you know plot, POV, or characters’ personalities)”

  1. I’ve had writer’s block for a pretty long time and I think my problem is I wrote something that I really liked and not only do I want to return to that project, nothing I write seems to live up to that project. I just picture people looking at my as-yet unwritten manuscript and going “She’s devolved.” I know I shouldn’t think about what people will think of something while I’m writing it, but shit, you’re write, perfectionism is a plague. I’ll seriously consider using your method of writing or incorporating it into my own personal routine. The thing is I’ve been having kind of a lot of ideas, just nothing I really care about, but yesterday I started copying some story ideas from my journal onto Googledrive to look at them neatly all in one place so we’ll see! Maybe the next great project is just around the corner. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello! I’m so glad this post might be of some use to you. It sounds like you’re on a good path with those story ideas! Writing thoughts down and then copying them to a digital form (and then possibly changing the font several times) is a great way to start seeing them in a new light. And I hear you about that fear of “devolving.” I’ve looked at my own older work and saw brilliant phrases or scenes or dialogue and gone “What happened?? Have I improved at ALL?” But my guess is that over time, you learned more and more about the craft of writing and in the process, became hyper-aware of your own “mistakes.” Your old writing probably looks better to you because back then, you wrote more freely. So go ahead and read your old writing and pat yourself on your back because guess what? You DID write that and you can write like that again. Trust yourself and let the crappy drafting begin! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I wrote the manuscript I was talking about at the beginning of this year. I think the difference between that and the stuff I’ve been working on lately is I wrote a series of little stories about the characters in that manuscript before I officially started the project, and that seems to have helped me immensely. I just get so impatient, I want to jump into a project right away! Thank you for your thoughtful response, and I’ll try to just start finishing things and not panicking and letting perfectionism kill the whole thing for me.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Have you ever tried or considered roleplay forums or in-character chatboxes to prime your engine? There are quite a few of each around the Web and they can be a fun, quick way to get into character and test how your characters would react to other personalities or situations! Also, as other people’s characters ask yours get-to-know-you questions in a chatbox, it can help you flesh them out in ways you hadn’t thought of. 🙂 I can suggest a site or two if you’re interested. Just email me. Good luck!!

        Liked by 1 person

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