Some writers say that staring at the blank page and having to fill it with a story is the hardest part of writing. It’s the getting starting and gaining some momentum that is hard.
I have run into that problem when I write fiction. My efforts tend to go nowhere until I write that first page and get the first scene right. Even if I have other later scenes written, I need to get that first scene written before the story starts to move forward.
I guess my mind is treating me like a reader as well as a writer. I’ve got to hook myself into the story before I can see what happens next. My fiction writing tends to be very linear. I start at the beginning and write through to the end.
My non-fiction is a different story. It’s not the intimidation of the first page that causes a slow start. It’s that I have too much information that I can’t set parameters for the story and find where it starts.
Getting a non-fiction project started is like herding cats. Just when you think you’ve got them all in place, one of them jumps out of the corral.
A similar thing happens when I start a non-fiction project. I spend a lot of time and energy collecting my research and interviews. Then I have to figure out what the scope of the project is going to be.
When you are writing non-fiction history, you are writing about life and a very small part of life in the grand scheme of things. Your non-fiction history is a link in a very long chain of events that happened to cause what you are writing about and continued afterwards influenced by what you wrote about.
Your job is to cut out a section of that chain and write about it, but finding where to cut is hard sometimes because everything is connected. There may be something interesting, funny, or tragic that happened that you discover in your research. You have to decide whether it is pertinent enough to the larger story to be included, and if you do include it, does it change the scope of the story.
When I’m still in the process of herding all those cats at the beginning of a new project, it can seem overwhelming because everything seems to be in motion. Once I decide on the scope of the story and look at things through that perspective, I can start to make sense of all that motion that is my research.
At that point, I can start to get scenes down on paper. Writing things down also helps me further define the scope of my story. Oddly, I don’t necessarily need to start at the beginning when I write non-fiction. I write the vivid scenes that are in my mind. Once they are on paper, it allows my mind to focus on other things.
No matter how you start your story, it will probably be slower going than how you write much of the rest of the book. It’s all part of the process, though. Work through it, knowing that it does eventually get easier.
These articles may help you get started on your book:
- Finding a new book idea
- Reflections on writing my first biography
- The difference between burnout and writer’s block