Why Start Writing? Sometimes, Just to Get to the Questions.

I started a new project yesterday.

Voices: You what?! You have a picture book to revise. You have a YA novel to just figure out. There’s that other picture book that’s just sitting there in first-draft stasis! What were you thinking?!

Me: Oh, hush.

Yes, despite all the reasons not to, I opened up a file and tossed down a few more ideas for another picture book that’s been stewing. And then, with not enough ideas, not enough organization, not enough characterization, not enough anything…I started writing.

Why? Because I wanted to. Because I had a few sentences, a few actions, popping up in my brain, and they wanted me to write them into a scene. Or, at least, something resembling a scene.

So I typed. I deleted. I typed some more. I deleted some more. I kind of let that internal editor go a little crazy, telling me that something wasn’t working, telling me to start over. This is something I rarely do, but it kind of felt good. It was sort of nice to look at something I’d written, think about it and decide that, yes, it was trash, and then…ZIP! to get rid of it.

Frankly, I was having a little power party.

Anyway, I wrote and liked stuff, and I wrote and didn’t like stuff, and then I kept writing, letting the stuff I did and didn’t like all stay on the page for now. Kind of a mess, but I was writing. I knew the direction I was going probably wasn’t the right one, and I sure as heck didn’t have any sense of structure or voice or rhythm or pacing yet. Still, I was going somewhere.

When I wound down, and it was time to go pick up my son, I saved, then closed and backed-up the file. I stood up and walked away from the computer.

And those voices came back. Louder this time. And here’s what they said.

  • Why does your hero want to do THIS thing? As opposed to know, any one of a hundred other things. Why THIS THING, with THIS KID?


  • If you’re going to show THIS other thing, you’re kind of making a statement. Except you’re not yet. It’s just…there. Doing nothing. Are you going to make THIS thing count, or lose it?

At first, I was:

And then I slapped myself on the forehead, ran back to the computer, reopened the file, and typed those questions (in red!) at the bottom of the draft-so-far.

Because those questions took me that much closer to figuring out the core of this story.

So, sometimes, yes, go for the mess. Write the trash. Somewhere, under those slimy banana peels and the rags you cleaned your skunk-infested dog with, is the thing you need. The tool to take you the next step.

Wherever that goes!


  1. becky, you’ve just described the start of every writing encounter I’ve ever had. I’m a pantser (which is just weird because in my working life I’m an event PLANNNER) I need to start the mess to see what’s there. I’ve tried outlining without much success. But the messy start? It ALWAYS works for me. Yay for the power party! Yay for the mess! And yay for listening to your gut, not the voices in your head that tell you no. GO GO GO!


  2. Yes, yes, yes, yes.

    I get these mild panic stages in the initial plotting of a book. I’ve got the structure okay, the plot points are there, the turn is there, but for the story to flow, to really pull the reader in, there needs to be an organic development. No aliens from the sky to build the pyramids.

    So I have, in the “Document Notes” pane in Scrivener those same types of questions.

    After I’ve got through the first outline stage I head back in, those notes in mind, and add some key scenes earlier in the story spec ifically to set up the information that needs to come out later.

    It’s funny. I’m working on number 6 right now (first pinch point coming up in about 5000 words) and I’ve still got that “holy crap, how am I going to make this work” feeling, even though I’ve made it work five times now.

    As long as you identify all the questions, and answer them, it works.

    I like your “Panic” button. You need to put one of those red circles with a slash over it.


  3. this is writing when you just open a vein. GOod for you! Adding notes somewhere helps me too. Go for it, you are an inspiration to us all!


  4. Go, Becky! I love this… (of course when have I ever been on the side of efficiency?)


    • beckylevine says:

      Efficiency comes in handy in so many other aspects of my life, but I think it may be too rigid a mold for creativity. Much as I would love it not to be. ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. It’s good to have more than one project, I think. You’ll know when it’s time to hunker down on a particular project. One bit of advice I recieved was to enjoy this “stage” of my careeer where I DO have the freedom to play, to dabble, to work on whatever projects my heart desires. That being said. this month I’m laser-beam focused on revising my novel. Go you!!!!!


    • beckylevine says:

      Yay for you! And, yes, I am trying to bring back the love, that feeling of freedom. It’s great advice.


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