If I meet someone and the topic of writing comes up, I always encourage them to write, whether I have a good impression of them or bad. Not because it is a pleasant experience, or a comfortable hobby, or an easy process – I am not that deluded – but because it is a learning experience. You wrestle with emotions, isolate yourself, question your motives, explore how far you’re willing to go in certain areas, battle self-doubt, and hone your skills in several areas (not just writing, but semantics, visualization, and research – hopefully). You spend a significant time alone, in your head, when you are actually writing.
The most common response I get is “I don’t know where to start.” I like to quote Lewis Carroll to this, “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
Although this is actually not how to do it at all, not unless that works for you. I personally know very few writers for whom that method works.
For most writers, sitting down to write a narrative starts with a whim.
Story-telling is called “spinning yarns” for a reason. For me, my whims come in three different categories: Someone else’s plot (that I then mold into my own), a person who would make an excellent character/a character walking into my head (à la Harry Potter), or an image, like a flash of a forgotten dream.
Once you have your whim, build on it. Mold it. Turn it into something that feels real, a character who looks and sounds like a real person in your mind, a setting that touches all of your senses, or a plot that gives you an emotional response (chills, thrills, tears, laughter). All of this can be done mentally.
From here, you can do one of two things: outline, if you’re a plotter, or sit down and write, if you’re a pantser.
Outlining can be making bullet-points, jotting down paragraphs of the main plot points, creating character sketches, or long, run-on paragraphs of what you think should happen (this is how my historical romance was outlined).
If you’re a pantser, NOW is the time to take Lewis Carroll’s advice: “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Or begin with the scene that occurs to you clearest (this is how COLOSSUS was written).
Or don’t. There literally is no right or wrong way to start, as long as you start.