Five Strategies for Getting Started

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Five Strategies for Getting Started

Sometimes you’re not in the mood to write, but you know that you should. Maybe you’ve set a goal and hope to reach it, or you’re on a deadline. Here are a few strategies that you can use to get started:

1) You don’t know what to write? Find a writing prompt, a sentence that suggests the opening to a story, and run with it. Years ago, a writing group used a prompt that started, “There were rats in the soufflé again.” Suddenly stories about rats and soufflés appeared in magazines everywhere. You may find writing prompts online simply by Googling “Writing prompts.” But guess what, you might have writing prompts in your own subconscious. Just let something pop out. “After the horrific thunderstorm, I found an angel in the gutter by the side of the road.” “The skyfish on Lucius V drifted on the wind like an airborne jellyfish, translucent and insubstantial, with streamer-like tendrils swaying below.” What are those stories about? I have no idea. But I could start a tale with either sentence. There’s something that you want to write about. Your conscious mind just doesn’t know it, so let your subconscious do the heavy lifting.

2) You have a story you want to write, but don’t know where to start? There are several things that every story has to have—a setting, a character, a conflict, a theme. Try writing a hook to your story based upon all four of these things. One of those hooks may get you excited, and set you to writing.

3) Set a goal to do one thing stunningly. For example, you need to set your scene. So you might set a goal to simply describe the setting, to bring it to life as vividly as possible, by using evocative language, by giving it a history and a purpose, by making it fascinating. Of course, you can do the same with a character or a conflict. In fact, if you’re writing a well-rounded story, you will do all three!

4) Work on the emotional tone that you want to create. Is your story supposed to be hilarious? Write out a dry description of your setting, then bring it to life by making it humorous. Are you seeking to be horrific or mysterious? Then you would need to search for details and descriptive terms that set your tone.

5) Are you dozens of pages into a novel or screenplay? Many years ago, one of my professors, the poet Leslie Norris, said that his method for getting into a project after he had been away from it for a few days was to simply rewrite. Go back ten or twenty pages from where the story stops, and then make a pass through it, fixing any errors, and looking for ways to better the prose, adding or taking away details as needed. This lets you ease in to the writing process, so that by the time you reach the last page, you will remember what you had planned to compose next.

Did you notice that I didn’t say anything about checking your email, listening to music to search for inspiration, paying bills, or anything else that will take you away from your keyboard? Don’t let yourself be distracted. Plant your butt in your chair and write!

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Matthew W. Harrill's novel Hellbounce was a runner-up for the horror category at the Halloween Book Festival. Check out his book here.

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