Writer Wednesday: I Can’t Seem to Start My Novel!

I can’t seem to start my novel! Yeah, that about says it all. I don’t believe in writer’s block, so let’s not call it that. But let’s just say the writing isn’t flowing the way I’d planned.

Okay, to backtrack just a bit: I have started the novel.  If by started you mean that I’ve got a full outline. Yup. Got that (though I admit I’m not much of an outliner). And I have sat down and written a number of starting scenes…which I’ve promptly discarded.  I’ve done the whole sit-in-a-coffeehouse-and-just-do-it sessions, which didn’t do it for me.

Part of the problem is a question of where to start. I’ve written funny material with my character arriving at the train station, but no, too early in the story. So CUT. Then poignant material the moment my character arrives on scene, but no, this feel like introducing back story. So CUT. Then a crazy night out loaded with humiliation, but there’s no real reason for the reader to be there either, so CUT CUT CUT!

And that, dear readers, is how it has been going all this past month. The month of August. My Write the Novel Month. Blah. I know I should do what I tell my writing students to do: just write. DON’T REVISE. DON’T SELF-EDIT.  The thing is, I don’t feel like I’m self-editing. I feel like I’m just not latching onto the characters and voices in a way that makes me feel like the words are real and I’m in the moment.  That’s how I write. That’s my own style.  I hear the character’s voice, and know that dramatic opening scene, and I just go for it.

Not this time…

If I think of this past month in terms of words on the page, I can surely panic. But no. Because I’m not on a deadline (I’ve written a novel on deadline before…that was an experience!), I can think of this as a process.  Doesn’t that sound better than, say, a mess, or a failure? A process. And I do think this is accurate. As I’ve rejected scene after scene, I have been thinking about where I would start things. How. Why.

And If I did panic, would I be daydreaming of the scenes I needed to write? Would I let myself do other stuff and put this aside without feeling like I was failing? You know the answer to that one, right?

So, as I watch August disappear, I have to take a deep breath, and trust my writing process. As I’ve NOT written, what I HAVE done is think about the characters more, and their voices. I’ve started to hear in my head dialogue, and witness scenes that definitely should be written. I’ve picked out better names, more interesting story threads.

So sometimes, not writing is a vital part of writing.

I’ve tried to relax, even as these notions have all piled up in my brain but I’ve become too busy with traveling around and settling one child at Law School, which means the words are bubbling, but I’m still NOT WRITING. But life is a process, too. We go through phases in our lives. There was the time my kids were babies and I had to accept that there were months and even years when I wasn’t going to get the intense writing time I so needed.

Right now I’m seeing that maybe September is a better writing month for me after all. My husband has started back teaching at the University. My other daughter will soon be back at school. And my poodle is pretty quiet when she isn’t yapping at the mailman. The house, which was all summer filled with people and “what’s to eat” inquiries and piles of laundry and stacks of dirty dishes, will be under control and calm. A writing space, dare I say?

So sometimes, not writing is about waiting for your life and your head to get into a better place.

And sometimes not starting your novel is the best way to start it after all. Hm. We’ll see about that one. Stay tuned…

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14 thoughts on “Writer Wednesday: I Can’t Seem to Start My Novel!

  1. “So sometimes, not writing is about waiting for your life and your head to get into a better place.” Completely agree with this! Sometimes our heads are too filled with things we know we have to do, and the creative juices take a backseat. When September rolls around and things aren’t as busy, I’m sure you’ll find a new start (literally!).

  2. Ah, I am so with you! With work deadlines, a little one underfoot, and a labradoodle that barks at butterflies going by, intense writing time remains an elusive concept. But I’m taking this weekend to start book #2, thanks to a sweet husband who is headed up north with the kiddo to give me some space. I plan to do nothing but write, and will resist the urge to self edit as I go. Your post was timely – as much as I’m sorry for your frustration, it helps to know I have company!

    • Hi Karma!

      Yeah, we all know of these amazingly productive writers who crank out book after book, and it can make you wonder what the heck is going on with your own brain at times. If we’re writers, shouldn’t we be WRITING? I do think it’s important to find your own writing style and approach to craft. It’s very personal. And it is nice to know that we aren’t really alone in the struggle to find our own words, even as we try to deal with all life delivers.

      Best of luck with your own “process.”

      • So true! I’m in awe of the mom-to-three who manages to write a trilogy (and bakes muffins daily), all while the kids are at home. I make myself feel better with the belief that she has VERY good nappers.
        : )
        Finding a style is so critical, and I think I’m still figuring out what mine is. I have a good system for when I do mag pieces, but they’re at most 2000 words. Thinking of an 80K novel, when you haven’t written the first sentence, is daunting – to say the least. Maybe I’ll simply approach it like I do my non-fiction pieces – a chunk of an idea, one page at a time.
        All the best with your book! Looking forward to reading about it as you go through your own process.

  3. I agree with you about writer’s block. I don’t think it exists. For me, it’s mostly lack of motivation or, like you, not knowing where to go next. When I get stuck in that spot, I just start writing. I use Write or Die because it keeps me writing even when I don’t want to. I may discard most of what I write, but eventually, something will click and work.

    You’re definitely way more advanced of a writer than I am, but my suggestion is start writing the scenes that are already in your head. Don’t worry about writing linearly. Write what you have and maybe they will lead to a starting point for you. Good luck and keep on writing awesome books!

    • Hi Samantha,

      Thanks for checking in! I don’t think I’ve ever written out of order, even though I’ve advised it for some of my students. I could definitely give it a try myself, though it doesn’t feel natural for the way I think. But every project is different, right?

  4. I’ve also been writing slowly, and in small bursts this summer. In addition to whatever else is slowing you down, summer itself can be a factor. For me, all of the family interaction and travel and the simple need to rest after teaching all year (part-time) is more enough to slow me down. After this weekend, I’ll be teaching part time again, and my “free” time will be all the more valuable. Ack!

    • Hi Catherine!

      I feel your pain 🙂 What is it about having less free time that can make us more productive? I ask this even as I watch my own daughter scramble to start and finish her summer reading book before Wednesday and the start of school.

      And summer is actually busier than we think, as you say. Wise words.

      May your words be flowing soon!

  5. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday 09-06-2012 « The Author Chronicles

  6. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday 09-06-2012 | The Author Chronicles

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