Starting – that is the hard part, is it not? We must begin – in writing, at work, in life. Each of us has our own way of doing things, and few of us who are even moderately successful need coaching on how to begin on those good days. You know the ones – the sun is shining, the coffee is hot, and that little gear in your mind is clicking away. But what of those blue Tuesdays? You know, when you’ve made it past Monday, but the week hasn’t improved, and you’re ready to quit.
What about days when the ideas aren’t coming, the words are stuck, the coffee is cold, and you just don’t feel it? Although I don’t drink caffeine, and never really have (ADHD obviates the need, to be honest), I understand the use of an artificial stimulant – as long as it’s a healthy one.
Purists in any art will try to convince you that using anything outside your own faculties is cheating. I say it’s called using tools. Hell, even a crow knows how to make and use a tool. Surely a writer can learn.
A good example are story starters. I came across an interesting little site – Seventh Sanctum - that offers interesting little starters to get you unstuck. There are story starters, critter ideas, characters, etc. Now, I don’t advocate taking these whole hog, but that is not the point. The idea is to be stimulated to Start.
I had run a bit dry on short story ideas, having plucked out 2 per week through June. Still, the collection was feeling a bit lacking, so I’ve been struggling trying to come up with an idea I felt like exploring. I’ve started a few, but none has worked. Until I ran into Seventh Sanctum.
Now, you can select certain genres, but I just let it do a “free-for-all” and let the ideas fly. Immediately, bits struck me. One story suggestion included “It starts in a large city on a dying planet. The differences between laws from country to country play a major role in the story.” Now, I didn’t like the rest of the idea, so I deleted that. Still, this bit intrigued me. I ran a few scenarios in my head, but the well was still dry.
Cool. Change the setting, roll the dice once more, and more pieces appear. “Magic is a key element. It starts on a
war-scarred world artificially created by magic. The story begins with someone putting on make-up. The question of when a machine becomes human is a major part of the story.”
By now, I’ve taken bits from five different scenarios, and deleted the rest. But now, I can start. I’m rolling now. I have 3 main characters, each representing a different societal group, coming together for a specific mission. My little 5-minute exercise to see what silly ideas came up turned into a 700-word story outline in minutes.
I have my start, and a start is a good as a finish. Well, almost.
Speaking of starts, here are the first lines from my short stories. Some are cool, others, eh.
1. The People have been walking for weeks.
2. Oh good, my crazy magnet is still turned on.
3. “Dunc, I’m not so sure about this.”
4. Katie was lovely, once. You can still see it if you strain hard enough.
5. My name is What’s-Her-Name.
6. Her ship sailed long ago.
7. “Oh shit, it’s Fool o’clock.”
8. “Weggie! Weggie! Wake up!” Rocky was holding his older sister’s upper arm, shaking her, and whispering as loudly as he dared.
9. During the early years of the twenty-first century, a well-intentioned, but ill-advised scientist attempted to learn if he could “influence” the malaria strain to be treatable by flu drugs.
10. Robin stepped onto the concrete sidewalk and blinked in the bright sun – no, suns.
And the new one from today, courtesy my cheats (which I’m making up now):
11. Great wisdom requires great care. The magitech leaders have hidden behind that mantra for eons, as an excuse for holding the great majority of their people in ignorance. It is a lovely excuse for selfishness and control, is it not?
I love starts – even bad ones. Some days, you just have to pound it out.