This is going to sound silly to anyone who is a writer/author, but for me the biggest hang-up in getting started on this whole writing thing was coming up with ideas. Before I actually sat down and started writing, I couldn’t imagine how I’d have enough ideas to make a career out of this. And my biggest concern about even starting that first story was actually coming up with character and place names.
I’d see a cool image in my head and think about sitting down to write the story and suddenly I needed to know where my character was, what the names of the three other people in the room were, the name of the city my character was leaving for, the name of the country, what the social structure was, how people addressed one another, whether there was a religion, and, if so, how it worked, etc., etc., etc.
I’d freeze before I ever even managed to put pen to paper. That’s a lot to think through.
It turns out that if you just start writing, many of those issues resolve themselves. The key is to start writing.
I also came up with a few cheats to get my novel started. I made a list of potential male and female character names, and, when I introduced a new character, I just looked down that list a picked a name that fit. (After about ten characters, this was no longer necessary, my brain was engaged enough to come up with the names without the cheat sheet.) And while I was creating that list, I also stumbled upon a few interesting characters. Most didn’t end up in this novel, but now I have a few interesting characters in need of a story, so my next project is already prepped and ready to go.
I also deliberately chose a setting for my first novel that was more in line with my currently limited writing ability. Think of it as the difference between writing about small town Idaho and writing about New York City. There is far more cultural diversity in New York, and I, as a newbie author, am simply not at the point where I can effectively craft a story with six religions, ten ethnicities, and all the rest. I just needed to get started on writing, so, while the country I’m writing about has its own depth and nuance, it’s nicely isolated (which is part of the plot).
As for ideas for other stories and novels – once I started writing, the ideas were there. I now keep an ideas file, which is just a word document with the ideas separated by a line. It’s six or seven pages long at this point and there is plenty of material in there for short stories, novels, essays, what-have-you. It turns out ideas are all around us, we just need to listen to our own internal dialogue. (Assuming you have one. I once met a girl who literally was not thinking anything most of the time. It’s true. We discussed it. I thought she was being thoughtful. Turns out she was just not processing anything at all.)
And be sure to record your ideas if you can. Carry a little notepad and pen or jot it down on your phone, but always be prepared for inspiration to strike. For me, a lot of ideas pop up when I’m hiking, and if I don’t jot them down soon after that, I lose them.
So, bottom line: Write (the ideas will come). Read (it will expose you to more ideas). Think (it will allow you to give those ideas your own twist).
(And I may not post for the next few days…I need to do penance for blogging and not writing a few days ago. Something about a 16km hike during my writing time…solved a plot issue, but didn’t put words to paper for a day or two. Bad writer.)