How to Start and Keep Going
Episode #6 of the course How to overcome writer’s block by Jurgen Wolff
If you feel blocked getting started with a new project, the problem could be fear of the first page. Later in the process, you may find yourself going over and over what you’ve already written up to that point instead of moving forward. In this lesson, we’ll see what you can do about both of these.
The Weight of the First Page
Some writers find the first page especially daunting. It seems to carry the weight of all the pages to come.
In fact, it’s just one page.
Three hundred words, on average.
Yes, it’s true that eventually, when you are doing your subsequent drafts, you will want to be sure that the first page grabs the reader, but for now, just do the best you can and move on.
You Can Skip the First Page
One writer I know skips the first page in order to avoid this pressure. He just jots down something like, “Jack sits on cliff, contemplating whether to jump. Decides to call his ex-wife.” Then he writes the phone call with the wife and the rest of the first chapter. When he has finished his first draft, he goes back and writes the first page.
Sometimes It’s Not the First Page Anyway
Quite often, what you believe will be the first page ends up not being the first page at all. When you write the second draft, you may decide that you should have started the story later or earlier. Or you may come up with a better setting, decide to add or subtract a character, or make some other change that requires a new first page.
Don’t let the idea of the first page put you off—cut it down to size, mentally, and get writing!
Once You Get Going, Keep Going
A major cause of writer’s block is stopping to judge what you’ve written while you’re still writing it.
Some writers keep going back over and over what they’ve written rather than moving forward and completing a draft and then rewriting.
Others are so critical of the first part of their first draft that they give up the project entirely and start on something new—and then repeat the process again when they get to the midpoint of the next one.
Here are a few things to keep in mind in order to be able to move forward and complete your draft:
• A first draft isn’t supposed to be judged by the standards of a finished book.
• Most successful writers do at least three or four, and sometimes many more, drafts of their books. Of course, some of them think it’s more impressive to say on talk shows that they just write one draft.
• Most writer experience what writer Seth Godin calls “the dip”—a time somewhere around the middle of a project when they doubt its quality. Expect it and work through it.
• If you have ideas for changes as you go along, jot them down as they occur to you. They will give you a head start when you are ready to start on your second draft.
• You will learn more from the process of writing one complete novel, even one that doesn’t turn out well, than from writing six half novels.
If you find yourself itching to go back and rewrite as you go along, review this tip, ignore the itch, and move forward.
Tomorrow, you’ll learn how to get help from an unlikely source: your characters.
All the best,
Write Your Novel from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers, and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell
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