Starting at the beginning

A very good place to start! But perhaps I took this innocent lyric a little too seriously. I’ve always felt like to do anything successfully, you must start at the very beginning — literally. I’m the person who unfolds the steps and reads through them twice before assembling anything from Ikea (also because I’m awful at it and I’m desperate to not have to take it apart and reassemble it – reading the steps works about half the time here, let’s be honest I’m this is about self-preservation).

Somewhere in my desperate need to not fail, I prioritized the order of things, and the proper order at that, more than just starting anywhere. If that first step was not perfect, I’d never be able to take the second step. The result was, I never started at all. A rigid “start at the beginning” mindset held me back from doing something I ached to do: write more.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have a beginning for my book or film idea, it was that I felt lost about where the beginning was; is it when you have the full idea outlined in your head? Is it when you know exactly where the character arcs are? Do you need to identify all your characters and write out their backstories? How prepared do I need to be in order to start? I seriously wondered if I had to create a world bible as reference material before I could start on the story itself. And what should I do about research — get it done ahead of time, or as I go? In trying to avoid doing it the “wrong” way, I failed to start.

(I sound so neurotic. Thanks for being here and witnessing this sad state of affairs with love  — and I hope, humor!)

But on a weekend getaway, sitting in front of my laptop with Celtx open and a frown across my face, my starting line blues suddenly turned rightside-up. I blew my own mind realizing that I didn’t have to start at the beginning to write. I start in the middle. I could stub in dialogue with a note that said “funny reply goes here,” and then move on. MOVE ON. I could just do that! Like a superhero, like goshdarn Quicksilver! I didn’t have to finish Tab A in order to move to Slot B, I could just do it IN ANY ORDER, as long as it got done. What a world!

You’ve probably heard it said that “writing is rewriting,” but I always interpreted that to mean, “Well, Wonder, once you get a first draft done, that’s where the real work of writing kicks in, so don’t go willy nilly all over yon page until you can cough up a full first draft, you big fat wannabe!”

My god. Why. Why, Wonder.

This morning I took an even bigger step. I threw scenes into a draft script all over the place — big willy nilly style. I got super sassy and started adding scene headings that just said “INCITING INCIDENT” or even “NOTHING TO LIVE FOR” (I kid you not). I stopped letting it matter that I didn’t know if the scene would be exterior or interior, day, or night. Those details previously frustrated me – they made me feel like I didn’t understand my own idea enough to be able to write about it, so I just carried on trying to think my way through things. Let me tell you how many books have been written by the Think System: just the ones in your head, baby.


I never took a screenwriting or fiction writing class. I wish now that I had, because I’m sure this is a Thing People Know and someone could have spared me many years of Think System. In my lofty wisdom I thought, ‘Surely writing can’t be hard enough that you need a class for it? It’s my own gollygolightly language for Pete’s Dragon’s sake.’

Permission Slip: It’s good to invest in your hobbies and passions. You’re investing in yourself.

You don’t have to have it all figured out before you begin. The aspiring baker doesn’t need to know whether or not he’ll specialize in sweets or savories to give himself permission to test recipes or look at leasing space. A garden enthusiast doesn’t need to know all the Latin names (though he or she may want to learn) to start planting. And I don’t have to be a closet writer (or worse, secretly a writer only in my head) to take away the same bit of inspiration: growth is not linear, so why should we expect our hobbies and passions to be step by step?

“Just start,” many people advise. I’ll add to that. “Just start, and start anywhere – it doesn’t have to be at the very beginning, because you’ll eventually take those steps anyway – you’ll get to them. A little momentum goes a long way! And it’s okay to do the parts that are fun first.”

Posted on May 29, 2018, in between you and me, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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