How to Start Your Novel in Two Words

It’s there, lurking in the shadows of your heart: a story. Not just any story. It’s your story. The one you dream about at work. The characters who dance into your thoughts in the shower or while you’re driving. When you’re at the grocery store, you glimpse them on the corner of the aisle.

This is the story you’ve been telling yourself you should write. But somehow, you haven’t. It’s the strangest thing, really. It makes you so happy, just thinking about it, imagining what it could be, and how much other people might enjoy it, too. And let’s be honest, you’ve probably imagined your book on the display table at Barnes and Noble and you’ve started making plans for what you’re going to do with all that money. The only thing stopping you from becoming the next J.K. Rowling, or James Patterson, or Francine Rivers… is writing the dang thing.

I know a thing or two about slow starts. I got the idea for my first novel when I was eleven years old. I finally finished it in my third year of college, almost thirteen years later. Then, I wrote another one. Now I can tell you I have eight finished manuscripts on my back. They exist. I have brought life into the world. I have something to look at and say, “I did that.”

So how do you begin?

There are so many things that happen when you consider writing your first novel. The fear: what if it isn’t good enough? What if people hate it? What if I’m not ready? The doubt: I don’t know if I’m qualified. Who am I to think I can write a novel? I’ve never done this before. The mental angst goes on and on. The fear, shame, and procrastination loop is a vicious, soul-killing thing. It sucks the joy out of writing. This beautiful project you have sits in the drawers of your mind, unopened.

So let’s begin. Here it is. Are you ready? The secret to conquering your fear and putting the first words on the page. It all comes down to two words: just start.

No, really. That’s all it is. I’ll say it again. Just start.

Wherever you are, with whatever you have, in whatever state you (or your novel) are currently in. Do you have a computer? A cell phone? A napkin? A receipt in your purse? Write on it. Scribble the first words that come to your mind. Yes, you may still have all the voices screaming inside of you. You might think it’s terrible. I don’t care. Maybe it is terrible. That doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that you are pulling these words out of your mind. They are flowing through your fingertips and landing on a page. You are creating something out of nothing. This is the story being born. Isn’t it glorious?

Now that you have a word on the page, I want you to keep going. Write the next one. Yes, you might still have the fear. Close your eyes if you need to. There have been times I was so afraid to write that I typed with my eyes closed so I wouldn’t see my own text. (I don’t do that anymore. These things do get better!) The fear you are experiencing feels overwhelming, but what is fear? It is sound and fury, signifying nothing. It will pass.

So breathe. Smile. This story wants to be born. Allow it to come out. You can do it. You should. We want you to.

Thank you.

(Next time: how to keep writing your novel! Then, how to finish your novel.)

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