How Do You Get Started?


The other day on the train I sat next to a woman and pulled my laptop.  I opened chapter three of my novel and began revising and editing (which is all I seem to do these days) when she tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was writing a book.  After explaining that yes, I was, or rather that I was revising a book I had written, she told me that she had always wanted to write a book, but didn’t know where to start.  I gave her some advice that I was given by a famous author.

Terry Pratchett

For those of you who don’t know who Terry Pratchett is, you simply must go and get educated.  He’s sold over 65 million books in thirty seven languages and he’s a very good speaker.  I was a youngster, still in high school, when I went and saw him give a lecture at the local university.  At the end I managed to speak to him and I told him I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know where to start.  His simple answer, which at the time flew over my head because I was seventeen and already knew everything, was: “Then start writing.”  It took me another eighteen years to figure out what he meant.  Eighteen years of wanting to be a writer, of thinking about the novel I’d write and dreaming of other people reading my work and liking it.

Just Start

I was sitting on the train on my way home from work reading a novel my father had written.  It was in document format, so I had my laptop open.  When I finished I looked at my laptop and thought: ‘I should get more e-books.’  Then I thought: ‘I’d really like to write a book.’  Then it struck me.  I remembered Terry Pratchett’s advice from all those years ago and I looked at my computer.  I had another half an hour before my stop and nothing better to do so I started writing.  I wrote a chapter introducing a character from this novel I had in my head.  The one from highschool.  After half an hour I had about three thousands words written and a deep satisfied feeling in the pit of my stomach.

But How Did I Know Where To Start?

I didn’t know where to start.  I just started writing what was in my head at the time.  It was a scene I’d day dreamed about a few times so I could visualise it well.  The next morning on the train in to work I decided to write another chapter introducing another character.  I got a page and a bit in to that and realised I needed more information about the world.  I needed to keep track of names, places, times, dates, ranks and other odds and sods.  I fired up a new document and began outlining the factions in my world.  The church got a hierarchy.  I named the five Arch Dions and the thriteen Dions but didn’t bother with the many Precepts and Priests.  Some knightly orders got created and their hierarchies drawn up including the names of their leaders.  I created the king and his family, their royal colours and the other major nobles of the land.  I then went and wrote a start, middle and end for the story.  I wrote a little history with dates and places so I could refer to events and keep consistent.  I continued on and wrote a chapter by chapter outline of roughly what would happen.  I had to do that so I could start four different threads, weave them together and end with a single ending.  It was hard.  But after about a week of doing that, two hours a day (1 hour to work, 1 hour home) I had a pretty good idea of how my book would work.  Then I started at chapter one and moved forward.

Is That How It Ended Up?

Heck no.  As it is I’m on revision seven which is a complete restructure.  I had to do that because my initial main character wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped, but my secondary character was.  The important point I was to get back to is that it doesn’t matter where you start, or how you start.  Just start.  I hope one day You’ll see The West Queen (maybe with a different title) available for purchase, but more likely it will be available for free as an e-book.  How can you lose with a free e-book?  So if anyone else is reading this, wondering how to get going, how to be a writer.  Start writing.

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About sjohnhughes

Author, nerd, father, runner and more View all posts by sjohnhughes

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