As you may have noticed (or not), my little word count meter for Shifting Sands has not budged. It is not filling up. At all. It’s been stuck at that particular number for… at least a week and a half, I think.
I’m having trouble getting the story started. Beginnings are not my strong point (though, admittedly, I’m not sure what aspect of writing is my strong point). Supposedly, beginnings have to have a hook and kind of let the reader know what they are getting into. Beginnings have to introduce and endear the main character. If we don’t care about the MC, why do we care if he gets out of the scrapes he’s in? (Hint: we don’t.) The beginning of the book also makes promises to the reader, some of which I’ve already mentioned.
But even before I actually knew the “requirements” for a good beginning, they still haven’t been my strength. I started out writing novels by hand (I didn’t own a computer at the time). I used to say that if a story doesn’t get to 30 pages (again, handwritten ones), it was in danger of never being finished. I almost always finished a book over 30 pages and often stopped if they didn’t get that far. Let’s make the educated assumption that I wrote approximately 250 words per page. Multiplied by 30, you get 7500. So with that math, I had to write at least 7.5k before I knew that the book had the potential to be completed.
I did this by instinct. I knew when a story wasn’t working. I never knew why, though. I never explored into it, I just moved to the next idea. To some extent, I kind of regret not being more observant. But my short-comings are not the point. I also know when I’ve just messed up the beginning and need to keep trying with that particular story.
So it happened with Shifting Sands– I wrote 100 words, thought “ick”, and tried again. I wrote 1000 words, thought “ick”, and tried again. I wrote 300 words, thought “ick”, and had no idea what to do after that.
Writer’s block stinks. Especially if you have an outline already and just can’t get the story started. I am instinctively a discovery-writer, so the concept of planning my story before I write it is a foreign concept to my mind. BUT for some odd reason, I find myself panicking when I don’t know what happens next in the story. I never used to panic about writing. I’d just put the story away for a while until I had an idea and was excited about writing it. These stories were never very coherent, though– not the early ones, anyway. A lot of the time, though, they were just a string of events that happened to all the same people (and they were very violent and people got very sick a lot of the time– I am truly surprised that I have never killed a character ever).
But when you want to write for a living, or at least try to, you can’t afford to put away the story for long. No, I’m not published and I have no contracts, but I need to be in the habit of writing every day so that when the time comes for me to sign a contract, I’ll be ready.
Back to the original point. I’ve been having trouble starting Shifting Sands. That really scared me. I just finished editing a book that I really hope will be published one day. I spent 2 1/2 years working on it, from first draft to end of editing. In the last year, I’ve learned an incredible amount about writing. I don’t necessarily understand it all yet, but I want to understand it and write amazing books. But I have had several moments of self-doubt when, staring at my heavily flawed draft, I wondered if I really could do this for a living. Do I have any talent at all? Does my story have the potential to be good? And the answer to both of these is “Yes, of course. You just have to work at it.”.
But the self-doubt question that really scares me is “Can I write another story? A good one? Do I have it in me?”
I think that 8 (almost 9) years of writing un-publishable stories is partially behind these questions. That, and every story I know I started but never finished because I was bored or didn’t know how.
So, when Shifting Sands is having trouble getting started, I wonder if I can actually write a good story. I wonder if I can really finish what I started and actually get it to take off. I’ve reminded myself that the story I just finished editing took me 7-ish tries to get the beginning good enough to write the rest of the story’s first draft.
Another confession for the blog: I have never typed a first draft. I’ve tried numerous times and was trying with Shifting Sands.
After throwing away the 300 word beginning, I realized something:
“I want to be able to make the reader feel like they are with the MC, right there in the underground cavern, during this holy ceremony. Surrounded by other members of this cult she was born into. But I can’t seem to make the descriptions right, or at least satisfying enough for me to want to continue. I can’t get Claire to do something that I like well enough to continue this story. Do you know something, Katie? You’ve never written a first draft on a computer. You’ve tried, yes, but never succeeded. The words seem to come easier on paper, don’t they? Slower, yes, but better. And with your notebooks, there is no internet to be distracted by. You can’t procrastinate as well. But in fact, you don’t want to procrastinate. Because on paper, the words flow better.”
So, I’m trying to at least start Shifting Sands in a notebook. I plan to start typing it out once I hit that infamous 30 pages, but I may end up handwriting the entire first draft. I don’t know. We’ll just have to see what works.
Wish me luck. And don’t forget to be awesome.