Dusting Off Those Shelved Writing Projects
Last month we talked about finishing projects we had started or have half finished but never completed
. I hope you were able to work on or complete some of those projects. As usual, I didn’t get as much done as I had wished, but finishing projects is still on my agenda.
Also last month in the June article
, I promised this:
“If it’s a story of your heart that you love and want to finish, but it really needs a lot of work, leave it in the closet. We’ll talk about that project next month.”
So here we are in July, the middle month of summer. Do you have writing time?
Take Out that Story You Love, Dust It Off, and Finish Writing It!
Do you have a project of your heart that’s been put on the shelf? Do you remember why you shelved it? (Tweet that!
) There can be a lot of reasons. Let’s talk about why writing projects get shelved. Then let’s consider taking them down, dusting them off, and finishing the stories of our hearts that we love (no matter what others say!).
It could be you didn’t have time.
Maybe distractions — whether from life or other writing projects — drew you away until dust collected on the project and, eventually, it got put on the shelf just for a little while, just until you got your desk cleared. And, um, that was years ago and your desk never cleared.
Possibly it was simply “life” that got in the way. The business of taking care of family and jobs and responsibilities… Am I ringing any bells here?
Or, maybe it’s on the shelf for another reason. Maybe you got discouraged with the project. That happened to me.
The Story of My Shelved Writing Project
Once upon a time I had a story I really loved. It was a supernatural thriller. I worked on it. I plotted it out. I developed the characters. I really loved that story.
And then the long days came when I wrote out that story as a novel. I worked hard, starting early in the morning and working late into the night. I wrote the entire novel. And I loved it.
I dreamed of sequels. I didn’t have all the plots worked out for the next two books, but I had characters who could fill them and a basic idea.
Then things started to happen. Three things, to be exact.1.
I talked with an agent who loved the idea of my story. He was a well-known agent who had “discovered” another author, one who had been rejected by everyone else. This agent helped him and that rejected writer not only found a publisher but became a best-seller, sold millions of books, and became very famous. This
was the agent who was interested in my story! He asked me to send him my book proposal and sample chapters. I couldn’t wait to send it and I did.2.
Meanwhile, a friend and critiquer asked if she could read my story. I let her, eager to hear what she thought of it. When she started sending critiques, it became clear she didn’t like my main character. The farther into the story she got, the less she liked that character. This was not good.
I remember she did not like my character because this character was not great with all the new electronics coming out in the late nineties. If she can’t keep up with the times, the critiquer said, she’s not smart.
Well… But… Wait… The character’s inability to access a password-protected web site is critical to the story.
I think the intervening years have proved that not all people can keep up with today’s electronics, don’t you? Even smart people.
Her critiques became harsh and I was devastated. Eventually I quit reading her critiques. Partly because of her words, partly because I so strongly disagreed with them. But it was just one person’s opinion, right?3.
Then I received an invitation to join a small group of writers who would meet with a professional editor and former publisher for several days. Part of the program was that we would all critique each other’s first pages. That meant each of us would receive critiques from the professional plus the other six or so writers. We would go over our critiques in class. I accepted that invitation.
I prepared by sending my pages and reading the others’ pages, gave them my best critiques, and looked forward to hearing what they had to say about mine.
The time came for the clinic. I was the last of the writers to be critiqued. I had given the others as much encouragement as I could along with feedback I felt would help them. I had contributed to the conversation. When it came my turn, I was so nervous!
But then the unexpected: Total silence.
No one said anything. What did that mean?
Finally the professional said he didn’t think the reaction of my main character to the supernatural event that occurred was realistic. Well, um, it was supernatural. That itself might not be very realistic, don’t you think? I still think my scientific-minded character would be freaked out by this personal, supernatural event.
And that scene sets the stage for the whole book. Without that scene and that reaction, the story doesn’t work. It can’t.
I thought we weren’t supposed to argue but were to just listen to the critiques, so I stayed quiet and tried to take this critique to heart. Besides, I was too nervous to think and didn’t have a clue what to say. I was shocked by his words.
Did I not write the scene well? (To this day I think I did.) Did they not understand what I was trying to accomplish? (I thought it was clear.)
Then the other writers in the room chimed in, agreeing with the professional, basically saying, Yeah...what he said.
Oh, and about that agent? Never heard from him again. I followed up several times but got no reply. (I found out a few years later he did that to everyone, not just me. Even his clients. He just dropped out of agenting, I guess.)
These three whammies came close together, hitting me like staccato beats. Discouragement set in. (Tweet that!
I put my project in a box and literally put it on a shelf in my closet. It’s still there to this day. More than eighteen years later.
Do you have a story like this of your own? Did discouragement get to you? Do you have a writing project you love that was put on a shelf and is gathering dust? (Tweet that!
I told you my story to encourage you. It's not just you. (Tweet that!
) These things happen. So what do we do now?
The Bright Side
Well here’s a few more things about that project.
- I still love the story. It has never left me. I think of it often. I can’t get it out of my head. I know I must write this story. It’s just a matter of when. (Tweet that!)
- In the past eighteen plus years I’ve learned a lot about writing and stories and more. I’m a better writer now, so I can do a better job with it now. (Tweet that!)
- I’ve started screenwriting, too, which has taught me a lot about story structure. I build better stories now. And, when I look at that story I structured it well, even before I knew much about story structure. That amazes me.
- I know more about characters now. For example, even though I couldn’t articulate it at the time back in that group, I now know the main character has to react like that because she needs a character arc. I can’t start her off at the end of her journey, the end of her character arc. Now I understand that’s what that professional and those classmates wanted. They wanted her to already know what they know, to believe what they believe. That's because they don't know the story! I do. I couldn’t answer their protests back then, about why is this scientist at odds with Christianity? It doesn’t have to be that way, they said. Now I know the answer is because that’s her character arc. To start her out as they wanted gives her nowhere to grow! It destroys her character arc and so it destroys the story. I wrote about this in my blog post back on December 1, 2015: Writing Stories: What Your Story Needs - Part 2
- I’ve developed more skills. Since I have now studied writing feature films and writing for TV, I can now write this story not only as a novel but as a movie (with series potential) or a TV, cable, or web series.
- I’ve recently re-read that opening chapter and you know what? It’s not only not bad, I still think it’s quite good. Maybe not perfect, but even after it has rested this long and my writing has grown for this long I believe it doesn't stink. Re-reading it gave me encouragement and confidence. It’s a good story. I know it, regardless of what others think.
- It’s a new time. Things are different now in America and in the world. I truly think this story was ahead of it’s time. I thought it was relevant back then. But oh boy it is even more relevant now. (Tweet that!)
It's Time to Tell Your Story
Maybe it’s time to take your story down off the shelf, dust it off, and finish it. (Tweet that!
If you’re still in love with your story, I encourage you to do it. Trust yourself. Trust your writing. Trust the story you’ve been given. Don’t listen to everyone else. This is YOUR
story. Trust your instincts. (Tweet that!
That’s what I’m going to do.
That’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.
It's Time to Finish the Writing Project(s) You Started
Just so you know, this post is not so much for you but for me. I'm betting, however, it will have meaning for you as well. It's June and we're approaching the middle of the year, so to meet some goals by the end of the year we need to be getting things done. My question for you this month is, what writing project(s) have you started that you haven't finished? (Tweet that!
I'm betting a bunch of writing projects just flashed through your mind, perhaps followed quickly by a flash of guilt. (Tweet that!
) Writers have stacks of stuff piled in the "writer's closet" that we never seem to go through because, well, we're too busy writing. I'm talking about the closet of unfinished projects, not a literal physical closet in our house, although those are probably just as cluttered and in needed of a thorough cleaning out which we also never get to because we're too busy writing.
So let's try to sift through our writer's closet today and see what's there and which projects we might be able to finish. (Tweet that!
) Hopefully there's an item or two we can finish well or finish quickly.
Now, mind you, I'm not talking about the failed projects that don't deserve more of our time. Not the novels or articles or short stories or NaNoWriMo works we started, or even wrote to completion, that have no potential. These are practice works. They have value because they taught us and trained us and helped us along our writing journey. But they are not worth investing more time and effort in. If you have one or more of those, or even if you're not sure about a project, leave it in the closet.
(If it's a story of your heart that you love and want to finish, but it really needs a lot of work, leave it in the closet. We'll talk about that project next month.)
If you don't have time this month, if you're already booked full, look at your calendar and decide which month isn't booked yet. Make that the month you're going to target as your time to finish this project.
For me, the project I keep saying I'm going to finish and then "life" happens and I don't get to it is my series of twelve e-books for writers. Originally I was going to release one a month and have them all done in a year. That was a couple years ago. I've completed and released four:
As currently planned, I have eight in the series left. I threatened some time ago, on this blog I believe, to finish them. I don't know what happened then but I remember getting some work done on one and then… Whatever. They still are not finished.
So I've been planning for some time to finish them (or at least some of them) this month. June 2017. Yet here it is the 5th of the month and I'm just now writing the post that should have been posted the first of the month. What can I say. I'm a little behind.
(I'll blame it on my short film that kept lingering on as I tried to finish it. It's done and was turned in on June 1 by the deadline on June 2. I still have work to do to turn in the final documents, etc., by June 9. See last month's post
for more info on that. I plan to write more about my short film documentary in the upcoming August 2017 post.)
So what is your project you'd like to finish? Need some help deciding? Let's talk about it. (Tweet that!
What to Finish
Now that you've thought of all those projects you could
finish, how do we pick one to work on? First, don't think of it as picking one, just picking the one to finish first
. You'll get to the others too.
Closest to done
Which of your projects is the closest to being done? If you work on this project, it will be the quickest one to finish. It will give you a sense of accomplishment. It will give you a something to sell or share. It will be one project checked off the list.
On my list of e-books, some of them I already have the manuscript written. They just need formatted and uploaded to Amazon's Kindle. One is formatted and partially uploaded, if I remember right. Others I have not written yet. I have the outline and have taught the material as a workshop, but I need to write it out to make it an e-book. It would take me very little time to finish the one that is formatted and partially uploaded. Duh. I need to start there.
Smallest/ Shortest / Easiest
Perhaps you have a project that would take little work to complete. Maybe it's not the most important to you. That's why you haven't finished it — everything else is more important. But if you finish this one, again you'd have an e-book to sell or an article to submit. What would it take to finish it and check it off the list?
Again, my almost-finished e-book I mentioned above fits here. It needs the least amount of work to finish. I sometimes get caught up in feeling I need to finish the biggest and best. Keep it simple.
Will produce greatest income
Do you have a partially completed project that, when finished, you can sell as an e-book or a printed book (Tweet that!
), an article you might sell to a magazine or a short story to a compilation book that pays well? Maybe this is the project for you to pick and complete.
Hopefully a new e-book in my line for writers will spark new interest in all of them, increasing my income.
Will produce greatest joy
Which of your many unfinished projects is close to being done and would give you great joy to complete? Maybe it's a project just for you — you never intended to sell it or share it — and everything else in your world has kept you from it. Schedule time and put it on your calendar to finish it. Maybe you will sell or share it. That's good too. Do it.
Yeah, sharing what I've learned in e-books brings me joy!
How to Finish
Maybe you haven't finished this project for a reason. You've set it aside because there's something there preventing you from finishing it. Perfect! This is the month to tackle that challenge. Stop letting it stop you! Consider:
You might be procrastinating because of a roadblock that you don't know how to overcome. Well this month it's time to dismantle that roadblock. I've found that often roadblocks grow bigger with time, or at least they appear to. The truth is, when I start to tackle them they shrink to something that's far easier to step over than I ever imagined. So what do you need to make this roadblock disappear?
Ask someone. Find an expert in the field and see if they will help or mentor you, or at least point you in the right direction.
Ask a friend for help. Sometimes people are more willing to help us than we realize. The truth is, most often the people we know really want to see us succeed. Ask. They might help.
Hire some help or trade skills.
Perhaps more research will help?
Or maybe it's not a roadblock but just a stumbling block: something that seems difficult or time consuming. Or something you just hate to do. Maybe one of the ideas above will help. Or can you possibly make a list of nearby friends who can help you, ask them to come, throw them a party, and let them help you?
Or maybe you just need time. Can these friends temporarily take some responsibilities for you to give you intensive, uninterrupted work time to finish? Ask.
Perhaps you simply need something to finish it. What do you need? Where can you get it? Editing? A book cover? I recently reminded a friend of Fiverr.com
and she found the editing she needed at a great price on that site. I had the e-book covers for my twelve e-books designed there and I think they're pretty awesome. (Now, if I'd just finish formatting some, and writing others, and getting them out there!)
Whatever you need, write it down. Write it in big bright letters on your big white board. Then go after it. Find it. Tackle it. Then finish your project and move on! (Tweet that!
This Bible verse speaks to me. I've typed it up, printed it out, and pinned it to the bulletin board in my office:
Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it… 1 Corinthians 8:11 NIV
Which writing project(s) have you started but never finished that's speaking to you saying, "It's time to finish what you've started"? (Tweet that!
What are you working on to finish?
What did you finish?
Let us know in the comments section below. Include a link to your finished product if you want so we can check it out.
If your unfinished project is making a Kindle e-book but a roadblock or stumbling block for you is that you don't know how, you can find help in the series I wrote on that topic. These posts walk you through the process:
- How to Make Your Manuscript a Kindle E-Book on Amazon (for Free) - Part 1: Formatting Your Kindle Document
- How to Make Your Manuscript Into a Kindle E-Book on Amazon (for Free) - Part 2 - Front Matter, Back Matter, and Images
- How to Make Your Manuscript Into a Kindle E-Book on Amazon - Part 3 - Get Your E-Book Covers Here! (Not All Free)
- How to Make Your Manuscript Into a Kindle E-Book on Amazon (for Free) - Part 4 – Uploading Your Ebook
Writers, Authors, Screenwriters: Try Something So Big God Has to Show Up
Have you ever heard that saying? “Try something so big God has to show up”? I’ve heard it. But I can’t tell you of a time I’ve really practiced it. Until this year.
Whether you are writing for magazines or online outlets, writing books — either fiction or nonfiction — or writing screenplays, let me ask you some questions:
- Are you satisfied with where you’re at as a writer? (Tweet that!)
- Are you happy with where your career is right now? Or where it’s headed?
- Are you writing what you want to write, or have you been drawn into another area because you need the pay check or byline? Or because that’s where the opportunity is right now?
- Do you feel stale in your present course? Do you wish you could break out and do what you’ve always dreamed of doing?
If you connect with any of those questions, maybe, just maybe, a course of action you need to take is to attempt something so big God has to show up. (Tweet that!
NOTE: I do not recommend this course of action without a lot of prayer in advance!
Even if you’re not a believer in Jesus, I hope you’ll keep reading because I still believe there is something important here for you.
My adventure in attempting something so big God has to show up didn’t start out as me purposely attempting that. I jumped into a project I wanted to do, and that I thought I could accomplish, and then I found myself there, in that situation where I needed God to show up big time or the whole project was going to fail. (Tweet that!
Since then I’ve toggled between sweating it out and trusting Him. It has been an adventure!
I’ve done the 168 Film Project
before, but it has been five years. I wanted to do the project again, but I have scheduling conflicts with the dates of the project. Plus it’s a huge undertaking, especially when I don’t have a film crew put together who I’ve worked with before and who really wants to do the project with me. To have that, by the way, is a dream of mine! What better way to find that dream team than to start working with people. So I jumped in. Again.
Last fall I decided I would enter the spring contest again. Actually, I entered twice: once in the documentary category and once in the speed film making category. I started with plenty of time to find a team to work with for each entry. The documentary would be done first. The speed filming making takes place one week in mid-May.
This story is about the documentary.
I knew of a story I wanted to tell for my documentary. I would need to contact the people involved — people I did not know and didn’t know how to contact — and get their permission. This was my “fleece,”
my way of asking God if He wanted me to proceed with the project.
Early this year I was able to track down the people and they said yes, I could tell their story. I had my answer: God said yes, do the project.
So on was on my way.
Here are four lessons I’ve learned along the journey that I hope will help you in your big writing dream:
Do Everything You Know to Do
I know the first order of business was to prayerfully and carefully do everything I could do. Some of the things this meant was:
|The silver pickup truck (and police car) I was able to get|
for the filming of "The Door" documentary.
Figuring out how I wanted to present the story.
I wanted the people involved to tell the story. That would be far better than me telling it. That meant I would need to interview people. On camera. I also wanted to re-enact some of the scenes. For that I would need locations and actors. I would also need some specific items to re-enact the scenes, including a small red car, a silver pickup truck, and a police car. (Yeah, right. How was I going to get that?)
Putting together the film team.
I would need a camera man to capture the story on film. I would need someone to capture good sound. And I would need someone to edit the film and put it all together.
Setting about finding everything I needed.
- I contacted a local college and found a camera guy, sound, and editor.
- I contacted the people I wanted to interview and they were willing.
- Now others were starting to offer help. I had an assistant. She showed me locations that really helped me out.
- I nailed down the locations I would need and agreed with them on a filming date. Now things were really picking up.
- I began looking for re-enactment actors.
- I asked churches to let people know of my need for extras to come.
- I found the red car I needed and the silver pickup truck.
- But I didn’t have a police car. Because I hadn’t asked. More about why later.
- I even ran a fundraiser. Didn’t raise as much as I’d hoped, but raised some and it would be enough.
So I had done, or at least was working on doing, everything I could possibly do to make this happen. It was a lot of work. But I was making good progress.
When it all falls apart… Put it back together.
It was Friday. We were a week out from filming. I had the locations. The cars (except the police car). Most of the actors. I’d put out the call for lots of extras to come. I had people excited about the project and helping me find everything I needed.
However I had an uneasiness. There was a lack of communication from some on my film team. Did I really have a team that was going to show up and get the job done? I needed to know. So I pressed them.
…my camera man let me know he wouldn’t be able to do the job. He had his reasons. But I suddenly had no camera man.
This is when I knew. I knew I had attempted something so big that if God didn’t show up to help me, it wasn’t going to happen. (Tweet that!
) The whole project would fall apart. But God had green-lighted the project, right? So He had to help me. Right?
I had already done everything I knew to do. Or had I? I hadn’t quite tapped all my resources. So the first thing I did was sent an urgent prayer request to a group of strong pray-ers telling them of my need. They went to work praying and I went to work for the next 24 hours tapping every resource I could think of to find another camera man who could step in on short notice. People sent me suggestions. Even a friend on the prayer loop suggested her son who is a cinematographer and lived hours away, and doesn’t share our faith, but was willing to consider the project.
|Michael DeHerrera, Camera and Editor filming|
"The Door," a 168 Film Project Documentary.
Day 2 of filming, Saturday of Easter weekend 2017.
Another friend who was praying for the project sent me the name and number of a local man. I called. He said he’d let me know by the end of the day.
I had several calls out. All I could do was wait. I was waiting as long as I could before canceling everything. Finally late Saturday evening I had to make the call. I had churches who were going to ask people the next morning in their church services to come out as extras. I had to let them know before Sunday morning if we were filming the next week or not.
At 8:30 or so Saturday evening, I finally decided I need to cancel the film shoot. I made the necessary calls to the churches and canceled the call for extras.
As soon as I finished the phone rang. It was the local camera man. He was willing to come. But I had just canceled it all.
Did I act too soon? No. For the first time I felt at peace. I had felt I was rushing everything. I’d rather meet with this new camera man. Tell him the project. Put together the film shoot again later. It was the right decision.
Long story short - we met. He’s great. He’s experienced. He has great equipment (better than we had before). He was willing to sit down with me and edit the film so I could be involved in that (as opposed to sending the footage to the other editor who lived out of town and not being involved in the editing). He was even familiar with the story I was telling. He remembered it. His assistant was also at this meeting and I learned he had witnessed the event. This felt right.
|Filming the crowd scene in|
"The Door" on Good Friday 2017.
I re-scheduled the film shoot. We filmed on Good Friday night and Saturday, Easter weekend. Because that’s the only day the whole month of April family could come to be interviewed. Even that felt right. It was Easter weekend, but God was in it helping me create a film to bring Him glory and make Him known. It couldn’t be more right.
Ask for Prayer
|Two men I interviewed for the |
documentary: Pastor Doug Cox (L)
and Pastor Roy Garcia (R).
It was the prayer and my prayer-warrior friends who made the difference. Their prayers created the break-through. I asked for continued prayer to put it all back together. (Tweet that!
It was their prayers, I’m convinced, who found me the local camera man.
It was a lot of work to put it all back together, but the project was now bathed in prayer more than ever. And
I’m convinced the project is going to be much better than it would have ever been before!
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
I felt intimidated to start asking skilled camera people to help me, but what else could I do? As a result, I met many highly professional people. Who knows? Maybe we’ll work together on a project at some point in the future. Maybe the Lord is preparing another project.
And about that police car. Okay, I’ll admit it. I was afraid to ask. Not because I was afraid of the cops. That wasn’t a problem. Hey, I’m married to one (retired). I was afraid that I’d open a whole can or worms that I didn’t know how to deal with. I was afraid the city would tell me I needed a film permit. I was afraid I wouldn’t have the budget to cover the expense of a permit. I was afraid they wouldn’t let me film. I was afraid I’d need to pay the cops (which is often required on larger film shoots like in Los Angels) and I definitely didn’t have the budget for that.
|The Pueblo (Colorado) Police Department sent|
me police cars to use in my 168 Film Project
Documentary, "The Door"!
L-R: Camera/Editor Mike DeHerrera, Production
Assistant Dominick Faust, Producer/Director Dianne E. Butts.
Plus, we were shooting the film on a Friday night. And, I’d learned, it was prom night. The police department would be busy enough without taking a car off the road to help me make my film.
It was the Wednesday before we were scheduled to shoot the film on Friday. My husband acted. He sent a message through a colleague to the local police department. Before the end of the day the Deputy Chief called me. Yes, he could get me a patrol car. Not only that, he went far beyond what I requested and he went to the city attorney who went to the city counsel and got me a waiver so I could use the police department logo, the uniform, and the uniform patch in my film! Wow!
That Friday night we had at least three
police cars (though some had to come and go to respond to calls) and about six police officers! It was amazing. It made my film very real. Wow.
Lesson learned: Don’t be afraid to ask.
As I write this, the Camera/Editor, Mike, and I spent the past two days editing the film. I couldn’t be more pleased. I can’t tell you a lot more about it until it competes in the 168 Film Festival in August
, but I’m thinking I’ll write the August post about what happens between now and then.
Apply these lessons to your project
So back to you:
What project do you have in your heart that you haven’t yet attempted? And why haven’t you? Is it a project that is so big God has to show up to make it work?
Or, is this the type of project you need? Do you need to create a project with God that is so big He has to show up to make it work? Is that the boost you need to re-start your writing career to reach higher, to stretch, to do the type of project you've always dreamed of doing?
|Interviewing Pastor Roy Garcia|
on the film set at the end of
Friday's shoot for "The Door"
A 168 Film Project Documentary.
What steps can you take now to start the process? Here’s a hint: Prayer needs to go before everything. This is something you can start now. Then He will show you when to move. Ask others to pray also. This moves the project out from your private thoughts and into the view of others.
If you’re ready to start, what are the things you know to do toward making the project happen? Make a list. Make a plan. Begin to do what you know to do.
Make a list of all the resources you have. Perhaps make it in an Excel spreadsheet so you can keep adding to it. Gather your resources so you know what you have and what you need. Look for backups for everything, so when it all falls apart — and expect it to at some point — you have resources to put it back together. Know that every big and worthy project will have challenges. This is a test to see if you’re willing to work harder and stick with it to make it happen. Also know that when you put it back together, it will be better than it ever would have been before. (Tweet that!
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Ask for help. I found so many people were excited to help and get involved!
Do you know when I get the most scared, excited, and fascinated in a project? It's when I look around and see all these people and realize none of it would be happening if it weren't for me. I created something that gave dozens of people something to be a part of. They loved it. None of them would have had that opportunity had I not started the project. (Tweet that!
) This, for me, is the most amazing and fulfilling aspect of a film project. When we’re in the middle of filming and I look around and I realize everyone is here because of me. It’s intimidating. It’s exciting. It’s amazing. And I love that.
So what is it you want to do? I hope you’ll attempt something so big that God has to show up to make it happen. It’s the thrill of a lifetime. (Tweet that!
This is a short film project which will compete in the 168 Film Project
. By the contest rules, I may not show it until after that film festival in late August
. Hopefully I will be able to release a movie trailer earlier than that. And hopefully also a movie poster. Stay tuned!
Learn more about this film by visiting it’s web site. Please sign up for the newsletter to receive updates: bit.ly/ConnectFilms
Lessons in Beginnings for Writers
|A swirl of books. How do you get into a story? |
As a writer, have you ever heard the term "throat clearing"? Over the years I've heard this term used when I met with editors at writers conferences and also in workshops. For me, this usually applied to a short piece I was showing them, like an article or devotional, but the principle applies to longer pieces like books and chapters also. The editors were telling me that I didn't really get to the heart of my piece of writing for several sentences or even paragraphs. (Tweet that!
) In longer pieces, you may find your real beginning pages later.
I was reminded of this term recently by an article in the Christian Communicator
…great beginnings often don't appear in the first draft. Or, if they do, they often aren't at the beginning. That's why the editing process is so important.
Many times you will discover that the first couple pages of your writing are no more than "throat clearing," and you get to your point somewhere around page 3. In a short piece, like a devotional or article, those first lines you type may not be the best beginning and will probably need to be deleted and replaced with a sentence currently in your fourth paragraph.
("Your First Impression" by Linda Taylor, March-April 2017 issue of Christian Communicator, page 15.)
From my own experience, I find this principle very true for my non-fiction writing. And as I pursue writing fiction I find the same holds true. However I've learned a lot about beginnings and how to get started from working in screenwriting and making short films. (Tweet that!
How do we get into the Story?
One of the first short films I produced was "Air Guitar." This was actually a practice film. I was preparing to shoot the first short film I produced on my own and I wanted to run through the whole procedure once just to perform the process from start to finish — including filming, capturing sound, then the film editing. I also wanted to run through the whole process with my small film crew — camera man, sound person, actors, film editor. So one day I gathered my camera man, sound, casting and acting coach with a couple young actors and we did a run-through. I'd worked with the camera man on a short film the previous year, so we both had that experience. He would also be my film editor.
In order to have something to shoot and practice with, I wrote a one-page script. It was actually a joke I'd made up and then wrote it to play it out with actors. I opened the script in a kitchen with my actors cooking brownies for a birthday party. We set up to film in my kitchen.
Then my camera man hit me with a question: Yes, it's a story about a birthday party, but how do you want to open up the film? What's our first image? What do we show?
Until then I didn't even realized that I had never considered how to get into the story. How do we get started? (Tweet that!
) How do we introduce this world we're in and our story's characters. Thankfully my camera man also had a suggestion: he did a close shot of just our hands passing out festive-colored plates and napkins. In the editing he put jazzy music under the scene. And, of course, he added the title and opening credits. That's how we got started.
Had I left it as I had it, we would have just jumped into cooking and dialog. No title. No opening credits. The audience would not have known it was a party. We would not have set the festive tone with the jazzy music. My script probably would have stumbled around with some meaningless dialog — "throat clearing" — trying to get into the story.
If you'd like to see the short film we made that day, it's here: "Air Guitar" short film
Since then I've tried to think much more about how to start my stories, articles, and books — both fiction and nonfiction — as well as each chapter. How is it best to get into them?
In film, it used to be popular to show what is called an "establishing shot." I'm sure you've seen them, you just didn't know what they were called. An establishing shot is usually a camera shot showing a city skyline or the outside of a building or house — something that shows, and establishes
, where we are. The tone is often also given: a storm is brewing, or a sunny day, or scary bad-guy music. But there is no dialog or anything that moves the story forward.
For the film I'm currently producing, a documentary of a true-life event, so far my best thought for opening the film is to show an establishing shot of a certain street intersection in the small city where I live. Then we'll widen the shot to show more of the city skyline and mountains beyond. I'm thinking I may even superimpose the city's name, state, and population. Of course the audience won't understand the importance of any of this information at the beginning, but it's all important and relevant. It will tell them where we are (city and state). Then through the story they will learn that this busy traffic intersection is actually where the event took place, in a city of sufficient size that it's very interesting that so many people are connected to what happened that night. This establishing shot will help me introduce and get into the story. (By the way, I also plan to come full circle and end the film here at this intersection … with one important change that has taken place since the event happened.)
Films and television shows don't use establishing shots as much as they used to. In writing, it may be good to have a character in this "establishing shot" or something that moves the story forward, but that is one way to get into the story. (Tweet that!
In non-fiction writing, whether articles or a chapter in a book, it's good to focus the piece of writing with a focus statement or thesis statement. I wrote on this topic in a previous post so you can find more help with that here:
The thesis statement typically goes near the beginning of the piece and then the rest of the article or chapter supports that statement. So finding an introduction that introduces or "gets to" that thesis statement is needed, and is the path to a good beginning. (Tweet that!
) However finding that path is still challenging.
"Throat Clearing" is Necessary to Find Your Beginning
You may need to do a lot of writing, allowing yourself to do a lot of "throat clearing," before you find the best path into your article, chapter, or story. That's okay. Do it. (Tweet that!
) Just be sure to let it rest (days, weeks if you have the time), and then go back and edit. Let it rest. Edit. It will most likely take several rounds before you get to a great beginning.
What about you? Do you struggle with great beginnings? Do you need to do some "throat clearing" in writing before you can find your best starting place? (Tweet that!
) It's not bad or wrong to write this "throat clearing." I actually think it's necessary in order to find the best starting place. We just can't leave it like that. We need to edit all the throat clearing out and find our best beginning before we turn in a project or let a prospective editor or publisher read it.
That doesn't mean we can't let anyone read it. We often need the help of another writer. A friend and fellow traveler on the writing journey, because they understand what a great beginning is. And they can spot "throat clearing" in our writing far better than we can see it in our own.
Take a look at the beginnings of your previously written stories or articles. Can you see any "throat clearing" going on? How would you now edit that beginning?
Then take a look at your work(s) in progress. Have you found the best beginning yet? Or do you need to do some "throat clearing" to find a it? (Tweet that!
When you look at your previously written projects and your current works in progress, what lessons in beginnings can you learn?
Related Article and Link:
Helping A Writer’s Muddled Mind - Part 2
Last month I was lamenting the problem I was having getting going after the first of the year. I felt muddled during most of January and felt like I wasn’t making much progress with my writing projects. (Tweet this!) As a part of that muddle, I also couldn’t think of what to write about on this blog. When a friend suggested I write about that very topic — How to generate new writing ideas when we’re dry — and suggested others might be helped by my struggles, I gave it a go and, much to my surprise, ended up with such a lengthy blog post I’ve divided it into two!
If you wish to read about the first three causes of my thinking and writing-muddle I identified last month:
- 1. Not Enough Ideas
- 2. Too Many Ideas
- 3. Distractions,
Here are the other three causes of a writer’s muddled mind that I was able to identify:
4. Things I Don’t Want to Do (But Need to Do)It seems clear to me that whenever I get overloaded with tasks I don’t like doing or dread doing, everything slows and I can’t seem to get much done. (Tweet it!) I don’t think it matters if we’re creative people or business people or laborers or whatever, in every job I’ve ever held there have been tasks I enjoy doing and tasks I dislike or dread doing. It seems equally clear to me that we can all get ourselves to do those tasks we don’t like or dread. Because it’s part of the job.
But when everything on our to-do lists is stuff we don’t want to do, it can stall us out completely. We need a little bit of sugar mixed in, don’t you think?
I also think sometimes I don’t want to do things because there’s something else going on. It could be that I really don’t know how to do what I need to do. That’s my next point #5 below.
But it can also be that I’m stalled out on doing something I normally don’t mind doing. Such as, you ask? Last month I described how dry I was on ideas for this blog. Normally I enjoy writing this blog. I love sharing with you something I’ve learned or something I know which I think will help you.
Still, there are times when I intensely don’t want to write this blog. (Sorry. It’s true.) Why? Well that’s a very good question for me to stop and think about.
The “why” behind why I didn’t want to write this blog last month, once I stopped and gave some thought to it, turned out to be because I didn’t have a great idea that I felt would help you. I couldn’t think of anything new to share that you might need. I could think of things to write about, but not that I thought sounded profitable for you.
I was stuck. Stuck for a good idea. I needed to do it. But I didn’t want to do it because nothing sounded good to me.
So what’s the solution? If possible either mix in some things you want to do, or figure out a way through what you don’t want to do, or both.
If you’re stuck, ask for help. Ask your writer friends. Ask other friends. Ask a stranger if you must. Ask the person next to you the bus or the train or in the waiting room or standing in line.
I recently read a statement from a successful author who said that early in her career an editor advised her to ask everyone (strangers included):
Wow. I never thought of doing that. This author said it had served her well and had sparked many of her books. (Tweet that!)
“What book do you wish had been written for you to read?”
So ask someone for help and see what you get.
Furthermore, if you’re a believer, ask God for help. He may have a great idea for you. And He just might be wishing you would ask.
5. Things I Don’t Know How to Do (But Must Do)Sometimes I mistake a task as #4 above — something I don’t want to do — when the real problem is that I don’t know how to do it. And so I’m stuck. No matter how much I prod myself to get going, I can’t move forward. Then I realize the real reason isn’t because I’m lazy or don’t feel like doing it, it’s because I don’t know how to get over the mountain that is standing before me.
One such recent dilemma for me was this: My writing projects this spring include two film projects. I need to do a fundraiser for both of them.
Not a writer's usual work. I’ve never done a fundraiser before. I have so many questions. I don't know how to do this. I’ve observed others and therefore thought I knew how to do it and I have many ideas of what I can do to hopefully make it a success. But I kept not starting the project.
I had questions in my mind I didn’t know how to answer. Should I do this fundraiser? Should I not? I hate asking for money. What should I offer for incentives? I’m producing not one, but two, projects this spring — one with a larger crew, one with a small crew. I couldn’t see running two separate fundraisers and making them both successful, nor could I see how to run one and divide the proceeds fairly between the two. Help!
Then I asked God to help me figure out how to do this fundraiser. Before I got to bed I had an idea that could work. The next morning I spent an hour writing down all my ideas.
Incentives? Duh. I have books. And I have expertise. I can offer consultations, phone meetings with writers and filmmakers. Others on my film teams might be willing to offer the same in their area of expertise.
Which film project? I could let the donor tell me by listing the same incentive three times:
This fundraiser had me stopped for a long time because it was something I could not figure out how to do. But I kept seeking an answer and it came. (Tweet that!) Now I’m moving forward, excited about my FUN-Draiser!
- Choose this one if you want your donation to go to the narrative film team.
- Choose this one if you want your donation to go to the documentary film.
- Choose this one if you don’t have a preference and I can use your donation wherever it is needed most.
6. A Writer’s WorriesFinally, as I was trying figure out why my writer’s mind was so muddled that I was having difficulty getting anything done, I discovered that the more difficulties I had getting going on projects and finding answers to my dilemmas, the harder it was to sleep at night. I didn’t want to worry about these things through the night but they wouldn’t let me sleep. That just added to my muddled thinking the next day.
So what was my solution to this? One night I made a rule: No thinking about the project allowed between the hours of 9:00 PM and 7:00 AM. This is sleep time. I can’t do anything about any of it during those hours anyway. So why lay awake worrying? (Tweet it!)
My new rule works. Mostly. I still break it occasionally but I’m better for the rule and with practice it’s getting easier to enforce it. It’s about setting boundaries around our work and our projects. It’s about keeping good boundaries so we can have a life beyond our work.What about you? What muddles your writer’s mind? What stops you from making progress on your writing projects? Can you identify different problems than what I did? What suggestions do you have to deal with the problem so you can get going again?
- Helping A Writer’s Muddled Mind - Part 1