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  • Derya Dinç

How Should I Start Writing?

One of the most common questions I hear from my clients as a writing coach and editor is always the same: "I don't know how to start writing. Where should I begin?"

An interesting story, colorful characters, and that adventure you want everyone to read might have been swirling around in your mind for years. But whenever you sit down at your computer and open a blank document, you freeze, or you start writing but give up after a few pages because you're not satisfied with what you've written. Don't worry; you're not alone. Many new writers struggle with the same issues, and for many people, writing the book of their dreams remains a dream. So how do we professionals in this industry do it? How do we start writing a book? I always start by explaining this process to my clients with the most well-known example. At first, it might be hard to understand your interest in writing, but if you are patient, you will see that things get easier.

We are all familiar with the definitions of introvert (inwardly-focused) and extrovert (outwardly-focused) people, which have even become part of our language. We are pretty sure which group we belong to. But how often do we consider that these definitions lie on a broad spectrum? After all, none of us are 100% introvert or 100% extrovert.

There are also two different groups when it comes to writing, characterized by their main traits: organized and unorganized writers. But just like the introvert-extrovert spectrum mentioned above, we all lie at different points on this scale. Let's get to know these characteristics a little better.

Organized Writers

Have you met Ms. Buse, one of the organized writers? She has a story in mind. She has been thinking, planning, and dreaming about it for a long time. Finally, she has made up her mind, fully believes in her story, and is ready to write a book. Ms. Buse is an organized writer, meaning she will create an outline before she starts writing her book.

She sits at her computer. First, she creates a profile for each of her characters. A file emerges with information like their names, ages, eye and hair colors, heights, accents, health statuses, and brief backstories. The more significant a character is in the book, the longer and more detailed the character file becomes. She even adds a profile picture for each of them. Of course, she doesn't have to include all these details in the novel, but they help her create more realistic and believable characters, essentially fleshing them out.

Ms. Buse’s characters are ready. Next, she prepares a timeline. Sometimes this timeline stretches far back before the start of the events, but it almost always ends with the conclusion of the story. Ms. Buse places the events she has in mind onto this timeline. When did each character meet another? When did they fall in love? When did the villain appear? When did the main character's life become endangered? She lays out all these details in a timeline like the one below.

Everything is going great so far. All this work provides Ms. Buse with a plan called the three-act structure. In other words, Ms. Buse now knows where her story begins, where it goes, and where it ends. Based on these plans, it’s now very easy for her to divide the story in her mind into chapters. As she writes her book, she creates short, one-paragraph summaries for each chapter, which will span pages. Let’s take a look at one of these summaries.

Chapter 4

It’s time for Hikmet to meet Sevda's family. They have been talking for two months. Here, my characters are nervous and anxious because they don’t know how their families will react. At the same time, they are excited because this is a new step in their relationship. They meet early on a Sunday morning at their usual café and make plans over breakfast. But Ali is watching them from the shadows. He is determined not to lose Sevda to Hikmet. He is already angry and hurt because Sevda rejected him and chose Hikmet. He is planning something bad.

Ms. Buse plans her entire book chapter by chapter in this way. While doing so, she uses the character profiles and timeline she created earlier. Now she has a rough draft of her book, making it much easier to proceed. But something still seems missing, doesn’t it?

Planning is not yet over: Ms. Buse now lists the locations where the events will take place based on the chapter plans she has written. Sevda’s bedroom where she cries after fighting with Hikmet, Hikmet’s workplace where he hears about Sevda’s accident, the café where they meet… She finds visuals representing these locations. A quick internet search, an AI like ChatGPT 4.0, or free platforms like Canva are helpful. She even goes out and takes photos of her favorite café.

Ms. Buse’s plan is ready. She might print out the visuals of her characters and locations and pin them on her board or wall. These will be very helpful during the writing process. Now she knows her characters as well as she knows herself, and she knows the paths they will follow. Thanks to all this planning, the blank page or blinking cursor doesn’t scare her anymore when she opens a blank document. She already has a plan; she reads the summary she wrote for chapter one, the character profiles involved, and the location descriptions, and she starts writing.

Ms. Buse writes her book following the plan she prepared. Her characters and locations are consistent. In other words, her main character Sevda doesn’t have blonde hair one day and brown hair the next. Hikmet’s car isn’t white at the beginning of the book and black at the end. Perhaps she spent a lot of time and effort on the planning process (nobody said writing was easy), but it was worth it. When she finishes writing the first draft, Ms. Buse has a very consistent manuscript.

But what if Ms. Buse didn’t have an ending for her story? Yes, she had been thinking about these characters and the story for years, but while planning the book, she realized she couldn’t find a good ending. It was too predictable, too familiar, and no matter how much she thought about it, she couldn’t come up with an ending that would make her story unique and interesting. But she hadn’t started writing yet, so she only lost the time spent planning. Now she can start working on a more interesting story and use her time more efficiently.

Planning processes (outlining) not only help you write your novel but also reveal points you might never have considered. This way, before you start the writing process that might take months or even years, you will know whether it’s worth it. Nobody wants to throw away all their efforts after writing 300 pages and saying, "This doesn’t work." So the planning process not only provides you with a roadmap but also shows you whether your idea is really worth writing. Many famous authors, from J.K. Rowling to William Faulkner, do planning work for their stories before they start writing. Just like with any genre, the planning process varies for each author. Below, you can see a part of J.K. Rowling’s planning work for the Harry Potter book.

Unorganized Writers

While Ms. Buse works on her plan, Mr. Osman sits at his computer, opens a document, and starts writing immediately. His mind is filled to the brim with ideas that have been swirling around in his head for years, and he can’t wait to write them down. So he jumps right into the writing phase.

Mr. Osman might stop writing a few pages later, thinking, "This isn’t working," because he runs out of ideas or gets lost in the events, characters, and other details as he writes. Maybe, like Ms. Buse, he realizes that the story in his mind isn’t worth writing. Just like Ms. Buse, the only time he loses is the short period he spent writing.

But in our scenario, Mr. Osman overcomes all these problems. He truly has a great idea, and after writing non-stop for months, he finishes his first draft. Great! He wrote his first book! Now he has a manuscript. The next step is to read it. But what’s this? In the middle of the book, one of the characters' names changes, and the main character, who had green eyes at the beginning, now has brown eyes by the end. Moreover, the battlefield was a desert, but on one page, he mentioned the grass on the battlefield being soaked with blood. So everything is a bit messy. Now Mr. Osman needs to go through his first draft page by page, correct all these mistakes, and write a second, maybe even a third draft if necessary.

Known for his deep characters and incredible creativity, the king of horror novels, Stephen King, is one of the best examples of unorganized writers. He is known for disliking the planning process called "outlining." He prefers to discover his characters while writing and let them progress in their own ways.

At this point, it’s helpful to remember the introvert/extrovert example at the beginning of the article. Ms. Buse and Mr. Osman here are fictional names representing the extreme ends of the spectrum. We all fall at different points on the organized/unorganized writer scale. Maybe you will create a timeline and start writing immediately, or taking notes on post-its will be enough for your planning process. Perhaps you will print out the map in your mind and build a story on it, or you will take the notes you need at some point during the writing process.

If you have trouble starting to write, spending some time discovering where you fall on this spectrum can be a good starting point. Do you keep to-do or shopping lists? Do you have little notebooks or note-taking apps on your phone for jotting down ideas? Do you like to underline, highlight, or use post-its to mark your favorite points while reading a book? Then you might be an organized writer.

Perhaps you say, "I’ll remember when I get to the store," or you think that if an idea is good enough to remember, you won’t forget it. Then you might be closer to the unorganized writer type.

Whatever type of writer you are, don’t give up on trying. Maybe your first or second story you work on won’t reach a conclusion. But if you don’t give up trying, there’s no reason you won’t succeed in the end. Remember that even Stephen King was rejected by publishers for years, and he nailed his rejection letters to the wall. He even needed more than one nail!

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