Are you waiting until you get that writing “office” set up to start your book? Will you begin that screenplay as soon as your “work schedule” slows down? Are you cooling your heels until your youngest kid is in high school so you have more “time?”
There’s never a good time to write. Never. That office isn’t going to help you either, because once you sit in that brand new chair out there, something else will come up.
It’s all resistance baby.
The only way to start is to just go for it.
I remember how terrified I was back when I dreamed of being a screenwriter but had no idea how to begin.
I was 24, and I’d just moved to L.A. I was starting an MFA program in film and had dragged my meager belongings into a tiny bungalow in Westwood where I knew none of my roommates. Everything in Los Angeles was freaking me out. There were too many cars, the freeway system was labyrinthian, and the air smelled exotic and strange (smog mixed with jasmine.)
Even though I’d been a voracious reader and movie watcher my whole life, I felt like I had no idea how to begin. The writing process felt mysterious and complicated and something I’d never be able to grasp.
But here’s the thing. I learned. Just by stepping in and starting. Whether you’re writing fiction, a screenplay, or memoir, you just have to begin, even if you feel you’re not ready.
Many of you may have an idea, something you’ve been longing to write for years, but become paralyzed at the thought of actually taking the first steps.
All great stories begin with character and conflict. Here are six steps to help you get started.
1. Pick up a pen, or sit at your computer.
2. Brainstorm about your main character. Who is he/she? (if you’re writing a memoir, it’s you!) What does he/she love? What does he/she hate? Most importantly, what does he/she want? Make this goal specific. Your protagonist has to want this thing relentlessly, take action, and cross the line to get it.
3. Brainstorm about your bad guy. Who tries to stop your main character? Why? Make sure the goals of your protagonist and antagonist are in direct opposition. For example, if your main character wants to start living an authentic life, your bad guy has to want to stop him/her from living authentically. If these goals are in direct opposition, you’ll get rising conflict in your story.
4. Think about how your main character changes/transforms. Who are they at the beginning of the story? How are they fundamentally and profoundly different at the end? What are some of the actions you can weave throughout the story to reveal this change?
5. Does your main character have a specific fear? Was this fear generated by something that happened in the past? Does this fear stop them from achieving their goal? How? This fear will give you something deep and emotional for your hero to face in the climax.
6. Once you’ve generated all this material, start outlining. For novels, memoirs and movies, The Hero’s Journey is a great structural model to use as inspiration. Make an outline using the Hero’s Journey by writing down the action your main character takes in each phase. (The Hero’s Journey is beautifully explained in Christopher Vogler’s book THE WRITER’S JOURNEY.)
Remember, none of this has to be perfect. Just begin. There is incredible power in the simple act of lifting a pen or opening a document on your computer.
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