When we are in high school, teachers tell us to start our writing projects by picking a subject, and starting the research right away. No offense to teachers, but that leaves out a very important step.
There are as many ways to start a writing project, regardless of what the project is, as there are writers. I’m not saying doing research at the beginning is wrong, (there is no right or wrong) but doing that much work right out of the gate can burn you out quickly and you will be grasping at excuses to take multiple breaks. Writing is supposed to be an enjoyable time, and that is what the first draft is all about.
When you start your first draft, you only have to remember two steps. This works whether you’re writing a term paper, or a 700 page novel. Those two steps are loglines, and free writing.
Step one is coming up with a logline. Many of you may ask, “What is a logline?” The term “logline” is actually used in script writing, but the technique works in other type of writing, as well. A logline, simply put, is one sentence to tell people what your writing is about. To make it a little easier, here is the logline from a script I’m going to be working on; “The goblin king comes back from the labyrinth to steal Sarah’s son.” Not only does that tell others what I’m writing about, but it also helps me to keep my focus as I write.
A more familiar form of the logline is the writing prompt. The writing prompt is one of the best defenses against writer’s block. Prompts can be found anywhere; in books, the internet, writer’s magazines, writer’s groups, you name it. If it helps, the book I usually turn to is “The pocket muse: endless inspiration” by Monica Wood. Some of my best ideas came from that.
Once you have your logline, you can move on to step two, and this is where the fun can really begin. Step two is called “free writing”, and it’s not something that schools usually teach. You may ask, “If it’s such an important step, why don’t they teach it in schools?” This can be explained in one word, “structure.” The English department of any school is there to teach the structure of English. That includes spelling, grammar, and syntax. In free writing, there is no attention paid to structure. In the first draft, none of that matters. The purpose of free writing is to get words on paper. You can leave spelling and grammar for the editing phase.
I always like to look at the writing process, like making a dugout canoe. When you ask anyone how to make a canoe, most will start with cutting down a certain tree, and cutting away anything that is not part of the canoe, but that really isn’t the starting point. In my model, the logline would be the seed. Depending on what kind of logline you create, that will determine the kind of writing. The free writing would be the growth of the tree, in which all the words come out. It is watered by motivation and passion, and it is fertilized by time and persistence. Once you have all the words, then you can begin the edit phase, where you cut out anything that is not part of the finished project.
Remember, when starting a writing project, the hardest part is motivating yourself to do it. Once you sit down to write, it becomes a lot easier, and more enjoyable.
You can see the companion video at http://www.youtube.com/apb148