10 Ways to Start a Book

1. Find a character that resembles you a little bit but doesn’t have your face. If your character has your face, it will be impossible to separate him or her from yourself. If it’s a different gender, okay, give it your face.

2. Put your character in between a rock and a hard place. See how film 127 Hours did this. (Actually, I looked up the Wikipedia page for this movie to see if it was first a book, and I discovered the book is called Between a Rock and a Hard Place).

(photo from safehaven.com)

3. Make sure the rock and the hard place are important to your character. If they are not, make up absurd reasons why they are important until one sticks. If we wrote out plot synopses for all the books we read, we would find them to be absurdly simple. It’s the things that go between the simple things that make a book complex and good.

4. Start writing some words; this is what your book is made of. Know you will throw out the first few (thousand) so just write them to have something to discard. It’s so professional to have paper everywhere. What is not professional is no paper anywhere, so fill paper.

5. Keep a notebook asking yourself rhetorical questions about your novel you may or may not succeed in answering while you sleep. If you are not very productive as you sleep, at least you are prompting your writing brain to try to fill in these answers as you write.

6. Tell everyone you’re writing a book. Like pretending you’re going to go for a run in the morning, having someone know you are attempting something makes you less likely to not do it.

7. Try to explain the plot synopsis to your friends and people you meet at parties until at least once it makes a little sense. Change the plot synopsis so it can make sense always.

8. Read books about writing whenever you feel discouraged. Think about how great your book on writing will be when you finally finish your novel and write a book about it. In the meantime, internalize other writers’ advice until it becomes your advice.

9. At least once a week tell someone you will not do something with them because you have to work. Make yourself and them feel really bad about it and like you are giving up on all your relationships and prior interests until this becomes a normal thing you do. You are a writer; you need time to write. Return to normal life once you have inserted writing into your daily routine.

10. Don’t reread your book until you finish. This is how I finished a (draft of a) book and was able to get anywhere with it. Don’t worry – you will not be content when you read again from the beginning. You might be at first, because you see the volume of your work all together at once, but let a few weeks go by and you will be propelled to work on this thing until it becomes readable. After all, you started writing it. Now you have to finish.

Dismissing the Adjectives

I took out all the adjectives. No longer do my characters smile a certain way, or say something other than how they say it. When I find an adjective I think I need, I find a way of squishing it together with the noun that it modifies. I have created such hybrids as wiseman and redcar.

A book called The First Five Pages told me to do it. It’s on the list of bestsellers at Indigo, so I initially didn’t want to read it. I’m not going to be that person carrying around three copies of Fifty Shades of Grey. But I knew it was what I needed. I borrowed it from the library.

I’m near to being done my book. I need now to make my sentences flow so that agents will read it, so that I can read it. I need to start new paragraphs with tabs, and I need to get rid of fluff and other stuff. I was warned that rhymes in prose are the worst. I love it when I find one; it makes me feel that my writing is magical.

And then, of course, adjectives and adverbs must be removed.

“I heard a few small whines”? Really? How big can your whines really be, Gil?

“The first time I met Gil”? Oh yeah? Did you meet him a bunch of times?

Story telling became storytelling.

Lobster tail became lobstertail (I need to say whose tail).

And then I started changing other things too. Hey Mr. Lukeman, why do your interns have to be “angry” and “overworked” when they’re reading my manuscripts? Wouldn’t being overworked make them angry? And “the next five thousand manuscripts” – isn’t that a bit wordy, not to mention unrealistic? And an editorial assistant, couldn’t that just be an editorialassistant?

Red scrawls and editorial loops on more than just the First Five Pages of this book suggest that maybe I should have actually bought it… no, that I should have bought it.

Top Ten-ish Writing Exercises

1. Start things. Don’t finish them because these are exercises.

2. Make fun of everything. Be serious about everything. Then try and just go in between.

3. Read a dictionary backwards. Try new things for once.

4. Shake a box and in it have all these suggestions. Never pick one.

5. Read so many books about writing that you can write about writing but nothing else.

6. Go live somewhere.

7. Write in a different language. Don’t know one? Make one up. We’re just trying to get you to use letters here.

8. Staple words together. Paperclip like ideas. Don’t do anything with any of it, but admire the organization.

9. Sit and sit for so long that you get the feeling of writer’s block. This way you can talk about it with conviction.

A Post-it note is a piece of stationery with a...