So, you’ve informed your friends that you’ll be spending less time with them binging on Maggi Goreng and Iced Milo because you’ve committed to writing a book or a blog. They wish you luck and you spend endless hours getting cosy with your Mac. But all you do is stare at the cursor on your page or caress your double chin hoping that an idea will pop out. But nothing happens.
I’ve been asked this question many times. How do you begin to write a story? How do you turn the ignition key to get the creative engine running?
First, you need some tools to unlock some part of your brains to churn out something. Like a wise person said, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Here are 5 things you must have on paper before you turn on your Mac and start drumming your fingers on the keyboard:
1. Fiction or Non-fiction?
Ask yourself, is your piece about something factual and concrete or something imaginative which evokes emotion? The former is non-fiction while the latter is fiction. Both emphasise the crucialness of creating content, as well as the need to show rather than tell. For this, literary devices such as similes, metaphors, personification and other figurative language lend a hand and create magic to your work!
So to find out if you’re better at writing fiction or non-fiction, try a hand at both. The key is to start somewhere. For any story, you need a beginning, middle and a lightning struck ending. Read books and see which genres you’re more inclined towards. Then, just go with your heart.
2. Know your subject matter
It makes sense to know whether you plan to write an essay on chillies or a thriller on how a spy leaves coded messages in nasi lemak packets. Whatever the case, whether it is about a character whose hobby is picking his ears for wax or a place where durians smell like viburnums, you have to know and understand what your topic is about. If you know nothing about blowpipes, don’t write about it until you have sufficient information. Because, what you write isn’t for your eyes, but it’s for your readers.
By the way, viburnums are flowers that bloom in spring and summer. So yes, it’s important to do a thorough research about your subject.
3. Get out, get ideas
I keep a notebook in my bag so that I can jot down conversations I hear or draw something interesting. Two years ago, I saw a man in KLIA Airport and what struck me about him was his hat. It looked like a beehive and when the security personnel made him remove it, he had underneath it, his hair, coiled in a high bun. This man, inspired me to create a character; Mr. Ram in my upcoming book The Treasure Hunt Trail.
So go ahead, be adventurous. Try that apam balik- flavoured cupcake or talk to the cobbler down the road or play on the swings. Try something different. But don’t forget to pen it down. Let these interesting observations be your collection of ideas for your next story.
4. Outline, outline, outline
This is a must have. I tell my students, that writing a story without an outline is like riding a bike at night without your lights switched on.
But writing an outline doesn’t have to be a dull exercise. Take out your crayons, coloured markers and create mind maps or Venn Diagrams. Draw tables or jot your ideas in point form. The key is to have a rough guide that you can refer to every time you get stuck or when you run out of ideas.
Another exercise which is helpful is to free write on a subject for two minutes without stopping for edits. Just keep writing and don’t worry about grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. The idea is to ‘vomit’ out everything that you know or remember about the topic. The outcome will be a paperful of words, sentences, anecdotes and then you edit and rearrange your sentences to make it cohesive.
5. Chuck your inner critic
There’s no worse journey than one with unwanted baggage. So, when you’re making that trip to the Jungle of Plots, leave the annoying critic or you will be left doubting yourself, your story an even the title. Caution. There is a fine line between the inner critic and the editor in you. Editing is important because you do not want your story…to begin with errrrors and be full of unwantedly adverbs. Whereas the inner critic will obstruct your free thoughts and blot that fluff of creativity that you’re dying to release. Nope. The inner critic is not needed at this stage. You’re better off with that passport of courage filled with stamps of inspiration on this journey.
So there you go. May this list give you a grasp of what to do to keep you in the mood to write before you press the final full stop at the end of the document. Oh by the way, I forgot to mention. Don’t forget to give yourself breaks in between planning. Reward yourself for starting a writing project. Then, when you’re ready, dive right in to your first sentence in your first paragraph in your first chapter. Keep writing!