Follow the words and see where they take you.


AND THERE IT SITS, staring you in the face during the darkness of an early morning.

A blank screen.

But full of promise.

The promise is up to you.

It’s really not much of a battlefield, this blank screen.

But it can put up quite a fight.

A blank screen can be daunting.

It can strike fear into the hardest of hearts.

It demands you to do something.

It commands you to write.

So what do you do first?

What do you write first?

Too many writers take the easy way out.

I’ll think about it awhile, they say.

I need to better define my characters, they say.

I need to create a new plot twist, they say.

I need to create a plot.

What is the most difficult part of writing?

It’s putting that first word on the page. From that point on, you are committed.

Grab the first word that comes by.

There is no right word or wrong word, no right sentence or wrong sentence, no right or wrong opening.

So don’t worry about it.

Just throw down the first word, any word, and see where it takes you. You can always come back and change it later.

After all, as James Michener once said, “I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But I’m one of the world’s great re-writers. I find that three or four readings are required to comb out the clichés, line up pronouns with their antecedents, and insure agreement in number between subject and verbs. My connectives, my clauses, my subsidiary phrases don’t come naturally to me, and I’m very prone to repetition of words. I can never recall anything of mine that’s ever been printed in less than three drafts. You write that first draft really to see how it’ going to come out.”

A story always takes a lot of turns.

You come to a lot of crossroads.

You’re on one road and then the other.

And sometimes you’re on the road that doesn’t come out.

It doesn’t matter.

E. L. Doctorow believed that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.”

You don’t have to see the end when you start.

Just follow the words.

The end will find you.

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of Secrets of the Dead.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Once you write the first word, you’re committed to see where the next 50,000 take you. You maybe surprised.

  • Roger Summers

    But Caleb, my night vision for driving isn’t what it used to be. What do you expect me to do, get up at 4 a.m. and write?

    • Caleb Pirtle

      You’ve been writing at 4 a.m. for years, Roger. I just never knew if you wrote after waking up or before you went to bed.

  • You got it, Caleb – start SOMEWHERE.

    I have a long written ‘process’ with many steps. It doesn’t really matter which step I start on – they are recursive. I have them divided into right and left brain steps, so which ever brain is dominant can choose the first step questions to consider.

    It NEVER fails – because there are so many places to start, and each one makes me think about some aspect of the scene-in-progress – and I always answer myself in writing, which contains the seeds of dialogue and interior monologue.

    I tell myself every morning: Trust the Process.

    And I get to work as soon as I can string a coherent thought about ANY of these prompts.

    The very last stage, actually writing the scene, will not proceed until I’ve considered every question thoroughly. If it consistently refuses to write itself, it is because I haven’t dug deeply enough into my subconscious (where the story lives, as a whole) – so I go through the steps again, asking myself where I’m wimping out.

    And voilà – at some point the Muse gives up and gives me what I need.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Alicia, I admire your patience and planning and process. I just jump in and start swimming.

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