False Start


No one is more easily or quickly discouraged than the writer, especially one starting a new novel. A novel is a huge thing, and I feel like no matter how many I write, the beginning will always be scary. It’s the point where in writing it I jump around from thoughts of “This is crap already, and I have to write how many more tens of thousands of words?” to “I’ll just get it done and then see if it’s good enough to edit.”

Either way, I feel like I’m risking a waste of time. If it remains crap through the entire story (though, c’mon, a story can’t be all crap, can it?) then there’s no way I’m going to edit it. I’ll just have to cut my losses and move on to the next one and use the lessons from another failure to ensure the next story is successful.

In 30 Days in the Word MinesChuck Wendig has a great analogy for starting a new novel:

The start of a story is me walking into a dark house that’s not mine. I can’t see a damn thing. I know if I move too fast, I could bang my knee on a coffee table or break a toe or trip and fall into that Murder Pit that’s been carved out of the kitchen floor.

It’s only later that I start to feel more confident in the work – my eyes adjust, I know the placement of the furniture, and I can progress to a walk, then a jog, then an all-out run.

Wendig has managed to articulate something I couldn’t begin to express so eloquently. Its familiarity struck me especially while trying to write this new story. Some of the details aren’t quite hammered out yet. I don’t know some of the characters, and I don’t exactly know the setting either. I’m afraid to move too quickly into unfamiliar characters or rooms or whatever.

This is probably why I didn’t stick to the plan I had last week, and why I’m starting over. 30 minutes a day, scheduled, most likely in the morning, especially when I’m home alone. Next week I’ll ramp it up to 45 minutes as I start to get more comfortable with writing again.

The biggest hurdle currently is my work schedule. I work mornings usually, and I hate starting work in the afternoon – in fact, I hate being at work after one O’clock. This week, I have two shifts that start at five in the morning. Going from that kind of shift to writing in the afternoon is a hard transition. After an eight-hour shift that started in the dead of night, all I want to do is sleep. But then I’m too tired to write, and I just say, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” and it’s all downhill from there.

So I’ll make sure to schedule writing times I have to stick to on those days. Probably two or three O’clock – I need a time to start which would usually last for two hours when I get up to my full pace.

False starts are a fact of life for the writer, and sometimes you just have to figure out what went wrong and how you can fix it. Kind of like when I was on the swim team and got disqualified all those times for false starts off the blocks…

I guess that doesn’t really translate to writing very well, though. I’ll leave the writing analogies to Chuck Wendig.


About David Shank

David T. Shank spends most of his time in worlds of robots, dragons, and robot dragons. He gets his cardio vicariously through video game characters while carbo-loading on Killian’s. His perfect vision lets him see everything but the fact that he’ll never defeat those walls he keeps punching. When he’s not doing the novel-writing thing, he can often be found in public reading his Kindle and being antisocial.

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