Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Novel Writing: Killing the Blank-Page Syndrome

Your plotting is done, the idea germinated in your mind and grew to a nearly full-length novel. Now you have to sit down and actually write the novel. Suddenly you stare at the blank sheet on your word processor. You play around with the font of the Chapter One title until you’re back to the original. You frown. The story is good, the conflict worked out and believable.

So why can’t you get the opening sentence on the screen?

I had to ask myself the same question this morning when I stared at the same Chapter One heading for the second day in a row. I played around on Facebook, checked up on my friend on Twitter and watered seedlings that didn’t need watering yet. (Hope I haven’t drowned them completely) All because the right words to start the chapter and novel eluded me.

I argue that the first sentence needs to be perfect. It has to grab the reader by the throat, introduce her to the character or place and set the tone of the novel. It must arouse an intense curiosity with the reader – so much that she had to buy the book to find out how this ends. That first sentence is a matter of life or death for your novel. You can’t just rush it.

Then it hit me. THIS IS A FIRST DRAFT. A first draft doesn’t need to be perfect. It never is. The purpose of the first draft is to get the story down on paper without worrying too much about style, grammar and the most correct word. The first draft is where your voice tells the story. You have to turn that blasted internal editor off.

With every novel I re-write the opening at least four times. But, you have to have something on paper to re-write. You can’t edit a blank page. So even if it is crap – and mine always is – the first draft is just that – a draft. Regardless if you are a plotter or a pantser, the story needs to be told.

So what if it isn’t perfect the first time around? That’s what editing is for (and I still have to develop a love for this stage of the writing process).

So my solution? Get an application like Dr Wicked’s Write or Die and force yourself to start the scene. Do it five minutes at a time or ten minutes at a time – whatever makes you comfortable. Just get the story written. Nobody gets it perfect the first time. Some of the greatest writers re-write more than ten times before they even consider submitting to a publisher. So if you have to re-write a couple of times and edit until you’re sick of the story – that’s normal.

Close the door, shut the curtains and pop on some headphones. Ignore the outside world until you have your opening down. Usually once you get past that dreaded opening scene, the words tend to find their own way onto the computer.

Hope this helped a little in curing that blank-page syndrome so many writers face every day. See you in a little while – Dr Wicked is calling.