Sunday, February 28, 2010

Revealed: The Secret to How to Start Your Book

"If you stare at the mountain long enough, it becomes unclimbable."

Let's face it: A lot of stuff in our email in-box is drivel. Perfectly useless stuff. And I'm not talking about the spam.

But once in a while, a gem pops up. The little phrase above came from Brains on Fire, a blog I highly recommend to you. Even more rarely, once in a while a piece of email speaks to you in a personal way, addressing a problem you're wrestling to solve. They call it serendipity, a word which comes from a Persian fairy tale about three princes. "Serendity" is a quality, the talent for finding fortuitous discoveries by accident.

Except, it's not really an accident. In the book "The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life," Ben Sherwood discusses all sorts of possible calamities and how you, if prepared, can come out of them alive. Sherwood explains that most survivors share common traits, including (and here's a big one) the talent for making the most out of life. As Sherwood says, "They are super livers even when their time on earth is cut short."

One formula in the book is particularly interesting. It's called the Rule of 3.

You can't survive 3 seconds without spirit and hope; 3 minutes without air; 3 hours without shelter in extreme conditions; 3 days without water; 3 weeks without food; 3 months without companionship or love.

Let's face it, we all climb "mountains." Authors in particular. You sit down to write your next book and you ask yourself, "Where do I start?" Truth to tell, there are a zillion places in most stories that would make a good beginning. Occasionally, you don't know what the beginning should be until you're knee-deep in the thick of your narrative. (I always imagine a dog turning around and around until he finds that perfect spot before lying down!) But you'll never know where that "perfect" spot might be until you start writing.

That little post from Brains on Fire is a good reminder to just get going. Staring at that mountain won't make it any smaller or easier to climb. You can't find the beginning of your book by simply staring at a blank page. Start writing. Get to know your characters. Find your voice. Live with the story a bit. Work on a few outlines. Scribble in a notebook. Do a scene or two.

Trust yourself. The perfect place to start your book is wherever you start your book. Remember Dorothy and the Yellow Brick Road? She had multiple options, but they all led to Oz. Besides, once you get going, you can always make a revision!
How about you? Does the mountain ever seem too high? I hear you. Somedays it seems impossible to me, too.

But that mountain won't defeat us, unless we stare at it too long.


Peg said...

Joanna, you've certainly given me food for thought. I've so often thought 'I'd like to be a writer, not just a reader', but have rarely actually sat down to try to write. Since I retired, the thoughts about writing have been more frequent - maybe I just need to follow my heart and stop looking at the mountain. Thanks so much for writing this.

Linda said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I needed this post today. I have survived many challenges in my life on this earth, and have come out stronger on the other side. My first novel, when complete, will be the survival of another challenge, whether published or not.

This whole blog is an inspiration (I love the books represented here), but the link to Brains on Fire is truly going to help me stay on the path and just keep stepping.

You ladies are "da bomb"! LOL

Camille Minichino said...

I love that line, Joanna.

I'm going to print it and hand it to my writing students tomorrow.

Not that I don't need it myself!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Isn't that great? I love that line. It's worth posting somewhere so you can see it when you write.

Terri Thayer said...

The mountain often seems way too high. It's great to be reminded to take it step by step.

Linda O. Johnston said...

You're so right, Joanna. Sometimes you just have to start writing, and then the story begins to flow. You might not start at the right spot, but that can always be edited later. "Just do it!" And I'm a great believer in serendipity.

Betty Hechtman said...

You have to trust yourself and then take the leap and begin.

I like the word serendipity and what it means.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Peg, I didn't get to comment "back" to you because I was traveling, but I hope you start writing. Daily is best. That mountain doesn't look so big close up!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Linda, glad to be "da bomb." Just getting through that first book is a HUGE step. You'll learn so much along the way. I know I'm getting better and better with everything I write, and my friends share the same sentiments with me. It's the act of writing and sticking it out that makes us stronger.

Robbin Phillips said...

Hello there. It's Robbin from Brains on Fire. How amazingly delightful to find this link love.

No there are no accidents in this world. I so believe that.

I just finished co-authoring a business book and writing is a daunting task. When I hit send on the final draft, it seemed as if the whole world sighed. You can do it. It can be done.

Stay close and keep reading, it is what inspires us daily!