Have you ever stared at a blank sheet of paper, wondering how to start a story or an essay?
You’re not alone.
Yep, many famous authors find themselves momentarily lost, not knowing how to begin, or write the next scene.
Well, consider this: a sandcastle is built by having lots of sand and water, right? We plop sand clods on a mound and keep building a general shape.
I know. I know. Some of us are about to tear our hair out, afraid that we’ll write something awful. Don’t worry. You will! And you need to be okay with that.
“Bad, awful sentences” are the perfect building blocks for creating our sandcastle. From there we can refine it. But in the beginning, we need a shape. Any shape will do at first.
Here are three ideas that we often say to our students to make sure they feel safe with their writing, and more importantly, have fun expressing themselves however they wish.
The goal here is to get those words onto the page.
Yes, there will be a time and place to revise and edit. But if there is nothing on the page, what good is editing going to do us? Not much.
Here are three ideas that punch through the wall of doubt to “get the story out!”
(Hey, that kind of rhymes!)
1. “It Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect. It Just Has To Exist.”
This little mantra helps to put us all at ease. We name the problem and provide a reframing of what needs to happen.
No, we’re not looking for a masterpiece.
If that’s what you’re pondering, then you’re probably thinking more about other people than the story or writing itself.
We all fall into this trap, even famous writers.
Why? Because we want to impress others.
So let’s cut that out. Our task here is not to make something perfect.
Don’t try to impress anyone except yourself. Just write the story for you.
For example, if you want to make it silly with a band of Tofu Ninjas flipping and fighting the Terrible Tomatoes in order to save the Elegant Eggs, then great! Jot it down. Write to make yourself laugh!
Or, do you want to make it serious with a girl lost on a trail up in the mountains where there may be bears?
Go for it. Make us worry and make us care!
We just need a tiny taste of success. That means, one word, then another, then a sentence, until it becomes a paragraph or a scene.
If you can "Make us Worry and Care: along the way, even better.
So how do we do begin writing words, sentences, and paragraphs until they slowly become a tale?
Just “get on a roll!”
No, not a muffin or dinner roll. (Though, I’ll take a pretzel roll if you have one.)
No, we’re talking about starting where you are. Begin with a character no matter how simple, and write from there. Just gradually make us worry and care.
2. “Start Where You Are” & “Just Get The Story Out.”
“Starting where you are” for some people can simply be “Once upon a time…”
Others will begin with a rough sketch or dialogue.
Still, others will toss Story Cubes to generate ideas.
Wherever you find your inspiration it helps to have these story elements:
- A character. What do they want more than anything in the world?
- A place. What could happen here?
- And a problem. A doozy of a problem, if possible!
We like to encourage writing as fast as you can manage. It allows us to bring some energy to the story, and it helps keep our minds focused on the action, leaving our nervousness in the dust.
Here’s the first draft of one of our 4th grader’s stories. We set a 7-minute timer in class and after some comic strip sketches, this is the fun intro that he wrote:
The gates to the training ground swung open and a big monster truck came speeding in, knocking down the soda vendor.
“Christmas Tofu we need you,” said the Egg who was jumping out of the monster truck.
“I have no time! I must train these young lads, and if you want me to fight, go ask someone else. I’m in no shape whatsoever,” said Christmas Tofu.
“That’s exactly why we need you, and if you don’t come the Egg population is good as dead!” said the Egg.
“This can’t happen to us!” booms Eggy Ninja. “If the whole egg population is going to die then it’s just going to be me and my son that are the only eggs alive!”
“Christmas Tofu we have to go! We have to try and save the egg population,” says Spaghetti Man.
Christmas Tofu took a while to think then…
“Alright! We’re off!” Christmas Tofu shouted to all of them including his kids cramming themselves into the monster truck.
In our Story Class, we call this Flash Fiction, because it’s written as fast as we can write it.
Pull out a timer, and write for just 7 minutes.
A “success” is you “on a roll” writing a scene. That’s it. You won!
Try it now if you like. Set a timer for 7 minutes.
Why seven? To be honest, it can be any small number, but seven often allows us to achieve some momentum.
And that’s what we want.
3) Momentum & Flow
Ok! Let’s try it.
See the crazy dog below?
Let this be your writing prompt.
Set the timer for just seven (7) minutes and write a story.
You can always begin with “Once upon a time….”
One example is to describe the first thing you see. Is it his paws? his eyes? His nose? The water? The pebbles on the ground?
You can describe the action and intention. Is he chasing something or someone? Is he about to rescue a cat?
Whatever you wrote, notice how awesome the feeling is of just “getting your ideas out!”
Don’t worry if it is “any good.”
If you wrote and found yourself in a groove, then that is a “major success!”
You found some momentum & flow!
Cherish it like you’re hugging a happy dog licking your face!
Tiny Steps Take You Into The Special World
This small win will spur us on to keep making more tiny wins.
It’s like that ancient Taoist saying, “A thousand miles begins with one step.” Yes, that one step is a success. And, that next step is one too. And on and on…
But the real gold is in that first tiny step.
Over time, those tiny steps become easier. And soon we can feel our sense of flow as we write.
In that flow, time goes by quickly.
You escape the real world for a moment as you dive deep into your imagination and thoughts.
That is an “Epic Success!”
Now, your job is to show us what you found in your own “Special World!”
Small steps with momentum and flow.
This is how we begin.
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