Recently I was hired to ghostwrite a book. I spent time reading the material the author who hired me provided. The author and I created both a Vision, a ten word purpose and a working table of contents. We discussed what we thought belonged in the first three chapters. In other word, all the preliminary work had been done and it was time for me to begin writing.
I’m still not sure why, but I had real resistance to beginning the writing. When this happens, I wonder if it’s laziness or actually part of the creative process. It’s hard to be sure.
Although I usually trust my writing process, I realized I’d begun some excuse making. You may even recognize some of my less than positive self-talk that kept me from the computer for a couple of days. It included:
- I believe we ought to do the book differently – absolutely true, but it’s not my decision. I can advise, and make suggestions, and explain my reasoning, but since I’m the ghost, the author gets to decide. And the truth is, the client’s way isn’t bad.
- I don’t know how to do it this way. Okay, I’ve had to change my thinking and that did require a bit of pacing around, but the client’s way is totally doable.
- I don’t agree with the author on a couple of other issues, issues that are major points in the book. Guess what? I don’t have to agree. I do, however, get over the notion I know best. It’s his book, not mine. My only real question is can I write it that way? And the answer is yes.
- I don’t know how to start… ah, this is familiar.
First, open a new document
As silly as it seems, starting may be a simple as opening a new document; if you save it right away, you’ll have to think of a file name and that may be enough to get you going.
If not, give the new document a title… a working title. Something that sums up what this work will be about. It doesn’t have to be a good title – that can come later. Just get something down.
Next, put some words on paper
When I look back, I realize I rarely know exactly how I want to start a piece of writing. I also know that it’s not unusual to throw out the first couple of sentences or paragraphs or even pages as the work develops. Lord knows, when I was editing magazines and newspapers, I often threw out introductory material.
But if I don’t start putting words on paper, or on the screen, there won’t be any poor stuff to throw out, or good stuff to keep.
Start writing. Don’t worry about great opening lines, get something down. Get a first line written down even if it’s something silly and dumb like “This book is about (fill in the blank.)” Then write another sentence, and another.
No editing or rereading allowed at this point. Your goal, in this initial session, is simply to fill up a page or two – say 400-800 words double spaced.
If you run into problems, note them brackets [ ] so you can find them easily later on and keep writing.
Often, by the time you get toward the bottom of the second page, or the top of the third, you’ll know where you going. Take a break; make a phone call or fix a second cup of coffee. Go away from the writing for a few minutes.
Now, come back and read what you’ve written. Do some gentle editing if you must, but nothing too serious yet, that will come later.
Chances are you’ll discover you’ve written yourself on track. You’ll know what you need to write next. You can keep writing for an hour or so at this point, or quit on that project for the day, knowing you’ll be just fine because you’ve actually gotten started.
Write well and often,
Photo by Mateusz Stachowski at http://www.sxc.hu