Most of us know that it takes more than just a good idea to get a story written. Luckily, Patrick Ryan, author of the new novel Gemini Bites, is here to assist. The following list is his humorous and helpful guide on how to keep writing even when your brain — and your inspiration — wants to come to a screeching halt. You can read the first chapter of Gemini Bites on Figment.
“Writer’s block” usually isn’t about not being able to write. It’s about not being able to write the scene that will start the story, or the sentence that will start the scene. Here are some tips for getting started that I find useful:
1) If you’re looking at a blank page for an extended period of time, ask yourself if you’ve thought enough about what you’re going to write to know what the story is. Don’t envision in front of the page; do that somewhere else (while going for a walk, taking a shower, having a sandwich). You’re at your desk to write, not to decide what you’re going to write about.
2) Begin with one true sentence.
The plane engine cut out just as James was opening his pretzels.
Jennifer wished she were taller.
The car was long, sleek, and blue.
No one will ever be able to measure the amount of hatred Reggie had for his grandfather. (Pulls me out of the scene and makes me wonder if a device will ever be invented that does measure hatred.)
Spring: a wonderful time. Not true across the board; I’ve had a couple of lousy ones.
Tom’s eyes popped out of his head. Um, no they didn’t.
3) Whatever your first sentence is, if you haven’t come up with sentence #2 after, say, an hour of trying, change sentence #1! It’s not a golden nugget. It’s some words strung together. Try something different.
4) Go with an action. That can be anything from two cars colliding to someone opening a can of asparagus. Think character + action. Subject + verb. Without verbs, nothing happens!
5) Sit down with a few novels or story collections and look at their first sentences. They aren’t necessarily “right” because they’re in print, and they aren’t “wrong” just because they don’t grab you. It’s not about that. It’s about finding the first sentences you like, and figuring out why you like them. Then (and you don’t have to tell anyone about this), imitate them. You’ll at least have a start.
6) If the moment you’re trying to render isn’t happening, go for a different moment. You aren’t married to your ideas; you’re on a first date. You don’t have to go steady with your short story, and you don’t have to make out with a paragraph that has bad breath. (That’s the good news.)
7) More good news: the pressure is off! Everything happening in the world right now will keep happening regardless of the paragraph you write – and if that isn’t the case and you actually possess special powers to change the world with your writing, you certainly shouldn’t work with that in mind. Let your interest pull you in. Relax, breathe, and toss a few words together. This isn’t rocket science (even if your story is about rocket science); it’s fiction.
8 ) When all else fails, utilize the five senses: What does your character hear, smell, taste, see, feel? Three or four words are all that stand between you and your opening. Elizabeth felt nauseous. Michael heard snoring. I smelled smoke.
9) Remind yourself that you aren’t trying to sew together a bleeding artery, and you aren’t trying to throw a dart into a bull’s eye. You’re aren’t attempting to save or nail anything. You’re playing with words, so why not enjoy it?
10) If you “get it wrong,” you’ll know it – today, or next week, or next month. And you’ll change it, play with it, fix it, or axe it. Take it from me: writing is a process, and during that process there is no getting it wrong.
11) Don’t ask yourself, Why would anyone want to read this? Instead, ask yourself, Why do I want to write it? If the answer isn’t Because I’m interested, move on to the next idea.
12) Keep that first sentence simple and short. As the main character in the story of your own life, your days can be easy or terribly complicated, but they always start with one basic act: you open your eyes.