Why Is Starting A Book So Hard? (and how to overcome it)

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Are you having trouble starting a project? Not sure where to begin your story, how to put those colors to a palette, or how to find a perfect line of code to start your new app?

I'm going to let you in on a secret. We ALL feel this way. 

The hardest part of any book for me is the first 10,000 words (or about 35-40 pages.) As awful as it sounds, I can lose a month, two months, or more to those first 10K. I almost always start in the wrong place, and inevitably have to circle back around over and over and over until I feel like it works. And even then, there can be major changes later on.

I’ve always been envious of writers who can start at the beginning and work straight through to the end. That is NOT my process. Mine looks more like this:

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Tess Gerritsen blew my mind once. I paraphrase, but she said every book, when she sits down to start, she forgets HOW. She’s spot on. There’s a moment when the blank page stares you in the eye and says all sorts of nasty, cruel things. It reminds you of every one-star review you ever received, that your sales aren’t what they could be, that your idea is dumb, your title has been done before, every story is derivative, there are only 7 plots… 

Beginnings embody resistance. They are resistance on steroids. They are resistance on steroids with a dose of mean girls for good measure. Mean girls with hemorrhoids.

Did I mention I don’t like beginnings?

But… beginnings are meant to be cowed into submission. And if it takes a month or more… so be it.

I do have a few tricks I use so there isn't great blank maw awaiting me when I start a project. The first is to do some basic things, like title pages and chapter headings. The second is to find a solid epigraph. The third is to not worry about that perfect opening line, only a sketch of what I want that opening to look like.

I write visually; I see the scenes quite clearly though I may not know exactly what's being said, so I describe the setting. I give the weather. It's FINE to do those things to get yourself going. Once you're underway, you can go back and craft your perfect opening. It's not unusual for me to actually write in screenplay parlance -- We are in a dark room. Characters X and Y are having a heated conversation in whispers, when character Z knocks on the door... and I build books chapter by chapter like this. It's an outline, in many ways. I also take the synopsis, break it into scenes -- might only be four or five -- and write them up like this.

You get the idea. Instead of starting for real, I cheat. That way, when the actual lines come to me, I'm not as freaked out when I see the emptiness -- because there's no emptiness!

Happily, right now, that first awful month is past. For the 21st time, the first 10K is over. Suck it, resistance. 😝

How do you get yourself motivated? Any tricks you'd like to share? And is there a point of no return for you, when you're committed to a project? Share in the comments!

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J.T. Ellison

New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison writes dark psychological thrillers starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the premier literary television show, A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

For more insight into her wicked imagination, join J.T.’s email list at jtellison.com/subscribe, or follow her online at Facebook.com/JTEllison14 or on Twitter @thrillerchick.