written by regular contributor, douglas humphries
“Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” - Jean-Luc Godard
When I was a kid, I used to think you couldn’t write a book until you figured out what the title was.
I’ve always had a lot of ideas for stories, but the process of actually writing them down was difficult for me, because I would get tripped up by elements unrelated to the actual story. Like the dedication page or the introduction.
Seriously, I actually wrote out the introduction to my story before the story itself. It’s no wonder I ended up writing so few of my stories down.
Thankfully, I got over that little quirk. I realized that all that stuff is usually not added until after the story is complete. More to the point, all that stuff isn’t the most important thing.
The most important thing is to write the story.
I’ve written several novels and the one thing that would probably surprise my kid self the most is that I didn’t write any of them the same way, and I didn’t write a lot of them in order. Some I started from word one and wrote the whole story, one scene after another. Some I started at the beginning but then jumped to the middle. Some I started in the middle. Some I didn’t know the ending. Some I already had the ending written. Some I had scattered sections written out that I then had to stitch together with plot.
But that’s the thing about stories: you don’t have to start at the beginning.
You don’t have to start anywhere. But you do have to start.
The lesson here is obvious but worth repeating.
It’s really easy to get caught up it the details, in those things you think you HAVE to nail down before you can even start something. Planning is, of course, important, in novel writing as in anything else. It’s a good idea to sit down and get the general shape of the project in mind first, that’ll help you figure out what needs to get done, that’ll help you determine where to start. But you still have to start.
And that’s the hard part.
Because no matter what it is, whatever project or creative endeavor you want to start, there will always be something that feels like the deal breaker, the thing you absolutely cannot start without. Whether it’s a deadline or an outline or a plan. And all those are good things, but they aren’t the most important thing.
The most important is do the work, and to do that you have to start.
I’ve written several novels and each one has been an entirely different process. Some I planned out, some I just started and let inspiration guide me. Some were ideas that came to me one day, some were stories I had been tinkering with for years. The one thing they all have in common is that I completed each of them, but, just like where I started, the prep work, or lack thereof, didn’t make much of a difference.
Because I still had to start, and prepping or not prepping, like starting in the beginning or the middle or the end, didn’t matter so long as I started.
Because until you start, you can’t finish. And the good news is: you can start anywhere. You can start any time. You don’t have to be fully prepared, you don’t have to be prepared at all. You just have to start.
Sometimes you need to start at the very beginning. (“It’s a very good place to start”, after all, according to the Sound of Music.) Sometimes you have to jump into the middle, so you don’t get bogged down trying to figure out the beginning.
Sometimes you need to get everything planned to the “T”, and sometimes you have to realize that all that planning is slowing you down and just start anyway.
But whatever you do, you have to start. You have to put all the worries about where and how aside, every doubt that tells you can’t or you’re not ready, and simply begin.
Don’t wait until a better time, there won’t be a better time.
Start now. Start somewhere.
Douglas Humphries is a full-time creative, part-time vagabond. Words have always been his primary creative interest, but, in large part thanks to #createlounge, he's learning to pursue the multifaceted nature of his own creativity and help others pursue their own. He's a NaNoWriMo enthusiast and recently self-published a memoir about the Book of Jeremiah called Fire In My Bones. But, if you’re really good, he might tell you more about his Harry Potter fan-fiction novel.