Fiction? Nonfiction? It doesn’t matter. It’s all about getting started, but you’ll need a few supplies, and some directions, for your journey:
1. The Elevator Pitch
Imagine you’re in an elevator, and a literary agent, a theatrical producer, or a movie star steps in. After a quick greeting (we’re fantasizing here), you mention that you’re writing a story and they ask you what it’s about (fantasizing — roll with it). You have 15 seconds before they step off the elevator and (unless you take my advice) out of your life forever. What do you say? That’s an elevator pitch. Without a pitch, you have no story. (Sometimes it’s the first sentence.) Nonfiction? Same.
2. The First Word
Sit down and write the first word that comes into your head. The page isn’t blank anymore, and you now have permission to continue.
Work it into your writing schedule. When you’re getting started each day, allow 5, 10, or 15 minutes to do something else — an administrative task, a spot of research, scanning your notes or what you wrote yesterday (but don’t dive in to revise it). Then, when your time is up, get to work.
You’ve heard it before, but you can’t be reminded often enough: Show, don’t tell. Don’t describe how someone feels; illustrate attitude or emotion with actions, not observations. This rule applies to nonfiction as well as fiction.
“What’s my motivation?” is the cliched actor’s query, but it’s a good question. Your characters are actors, too (but let’s not get distracted about film rights just yet). What do they want? What are they willing to do to get it? When you answer the first question, it’s easier to produce the answer to the second one — also known as a story.
A story without obstacles is like — well, like a dull story. Readers identify with characters who get knocked down, dust themselves off, and get knocked down again. Rinse and repeat. Whether, on the last page, they end up on their feet or on a slab is up to you, but a story without significant challenges to the protagonist(s) is called a manuscript, not a book.
Did you give up on dating after you were turned down the first time? If you want your manuscript to “go out with” an editor or an agent, you must persevere. Each “No” brings you one step closer to “Yes.” And there will be a “Yes.” Unless you quit before you hear it.