Rule-Breaking Writers Banish Beginnings

Breaking The Rules

The best writers I’ve known tend to break the rules. Many of these rules are pretty silly anyway. Among the wackiest is the idea that the writing process must always start at the beginning of the story.

It’s just not so, Captain Picard.

Some writers do start at the beginning of the story. It’s how they work and it makes their writing life orderly and predictable. Others struggle over where to begin, how to take that first step. They battle and writhe around those first few sentences, the first scene, the opening chapter. They fret and get blocked, worry and strain. Yikes! Where’s the fun in that?

Banish the beginning, I say. Just move on.

No story can ever start at the beginning. There is no beginning. Everything begins somewhere in the middle, some place after the pre-story. Stories don’t end, they just pause. So, why worry about the beginning at all?

Middle Fork trail

Instead, start with an important scene, a place that means something to you and the story. Forget the old rules of linear writing and ordered thinking. Write that important scene, introduce a vital character, offer a little problem or solve a bigger one. Then, write around the core you’ve just created.

In fact, take it further. Create a scene here and there. Make a new character appear, disappear, change shapes, howl moods, blurt out statements, take risks, overcome or be destroyed. Just make a piece of the story and enjoy the art of creation. Worry about fitting that piece into the puzzle later, perhaps much later. If you’re a true writer, the orderliness of the story line will emerge on its own.

If the beginning is where you gag and go dry, you should throw it away, for now. Move on to where your writing heart feels the pull of the story line. Go where your favorite character leads. Disorganize yourself and let the words flow. Don’t stand outside the story, jump into it with both feet.

There are so many rules to break, so many useless ways to stifle your writing heart. To write the beginning of your story first is one of them. It’s an easy rule to ignore. Whoever came up with the idea was probably not a soul-writer anyway. Ignore the advice and enjoy the freedom in your art.

Beginning of the end

Begin where your writing heart leads you. Worry about putting the pieces together when you get a few drafts under your belt, not before. You’ll feel much better about the writing process and your readers will benefit from the unfettered flow of your words.

And that’s the beginning of the story.

Unknown Quotes from Unrecognized Writers

Carlos Castenada on Peyote. AKA, Why I Don't H...

We all love quotes, especially if they’re attached to a famous name. Well, there’s another side to that thrill. When you’ve lived as a writer for long enough, you get to know other writers pretty well. That leads to some interesting conversations. Over the years, I’ve collected a few fun quotes. They belong (mostly) to unrecognized writers, so you’ll never find them on the Internet.

The writers will remain anonymous. However, a few of these quotes belong to writers who have published several books. Go figure.

I know everything there is to know about writing. I just can’t get it right.

Some of my best ideas happen when I’m on the toilet. Naturally, I’m usually without my pen. It probably wouldn’t matter anyway. The paper is useless.

I didn’t have enough talent to get a job, so I just started writing.

Muse? What muse?

Somebody, in some writing class, told me that “the cat sat on a mat” is some kind of a story. Not much of a plot, if you ask me. Not much of a character, either.

I was tripping out two or three days ago. I was surrounded by all kinds of mythical figures, ghosts, old people, spirits, crazy Indians. Can’t remember all of it. Anyway, in the middle of the trip, Don Juan started giving me lessons about all kinds of spiritual stuff. Suddenly, I woke up. I remembered that I was Carlos Castenada. Then I woke up again and, bang, here I was, all over again. Wow!

I can’t write in the morning. I have no inspiration in the afternoon. By the evening, I’m tired and frustrated. So, that’s my writing schedule. What do you think about it?

You keep telling me to keep writing, that I’ve got what it takes. So, I keep writing, I keep throwing it away, and I just keep on doing it every day. Can’t you give me some better advice?

No, I don’t keep any kind of personal journal. Everything personal goes into my short stories so there’s nothing left over to write about.

He told me to be sure to write 300 words every day. Every day! Can’t I just write the same word 300 times?

Yeah, I’m pretty much finished with my first novel. It’s just missing a beginning, a middle, and an end. Oh, and a few characters I’ve been thinking about.

I don’t worry about spelling or syntax, or any of that stuff. I worry about writing good.

I don’t care whether anybody reads my stuff, so long as I get paid for it.

An agent read my book and said it needs a lot of work. Who does he think he is? I’m the writer.

Darn those readers! They just don’t get it!

Writers Workshop: Interview with a Muse

The MerovingianIt’s so difficult to catch up with a muse. Getting a muse to talk is even more rare. However, it can happen, if you’re sufficiently persistent. This muse reluctantly agreed to a brief interview and quick photo-op.

Why do you write?

Think about it for moment and you’ll see that’s not the right question. Do you ask a tree why it’s a tree? It’s like chewing bones, taking naps, howling and prowling. It’s just what I do. Silly human.

OK, let me try this: Fiction or nonfiction?

Easy. Fiction every time. I see no purpose in regurgitating too much reality. Like any other muse, I just want to have fun.

What’s your favorite genre?

I like spy stories. Also, stories about submarines. I like watching everything, pretending that I’m a spy. I also like to take a swim from time to time. Submarines smell pretty special. Have you ever tried one?

When you write fiction, how do you come up with your characters? What’s your inspiration?

Well, I like people. And, I love to sniff them. Sniffing gives me great images. I put those images together and, wholly-bang, there’s a new character. I also like animals. Good smells, good visuals.

What about story lines? Where do yours come from?

Everything I see around me and, believe me, I get around. Almost everything I do is a story, so it’s pretty easy to come up with something interesting. Watching people also helps me. They do some fascinating, entertaining things. They always seem to be doing something they believe is important but I’m not so sure. I think many of them are spies. Some of them live in submarines.

If you could pick one and only character as your favorite, who would it be?

The cat that lives with me. She likes to snuggle up when we sleep and she helps keep me warm. She doesn’t eat my food and I’m pretty much the boss, mostly. So, I’d go with her. Sometimes, I worry, though. When she’s mousing, I wonder if she’s a serial killer, or a spy. I don’t think she’s ever been on a submarine.

Novels or short stories? Which do you prefer?

Keep it short. My attention span has never been that great.

Do you have a writer’s sanctuary? What’s it like?

Sure. Doesn’t every writer? Mine is about six-feet by four-feet and outfitted with some cushy old rugs that smell really great. I spend lots of time in that sanctuary.

When you’re not writing, what do you do with yourself?

I nap a lot. Sometimes, I prowl around. Searching for food is a good way to kill a few minutes. Most of all, I like to spy on the humans that come and go throughout my life. They’re very entertaining.

Any final thoughts?

A muse is where you find it.