From stew to chapter one: the power of journaling and an "impossible" deadline
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
Getting to Chapter One
Sometimes, your head is full of stew. Bubbling, overflowing stew, filling your head with thoughts but preventing you from tackling the blank page. Stew isn't bad. The characters start to form, the ideas start to flow and the stew becomes enticing. But, at some point you have to stop stewing and start writing. That isn't always easy.
Two things have helped me with that, which I wanted to share. Journalling and a deadline.
Fans of “the morning pages” (see The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron) will be familiar with journaling, the idea of free writing and just letting what’s in your head into your journal. The rules I use are: set a timer for five or 10 minutes, pick up your pen and just write without stopping, not crafting perfect sentences or editing or stopping to think along the way, just writing. You can use it in the morning to dump what’s whirling around inside your head onto a page. You can take a random line from a novel or poem and then continue to write, using it as a creative writing prompt to warm you up. You can give yourself a starting line, such as ‘the book I am writing is…’ and explore what your subconscious thinks it is. You can motivate yourself by starting with ‘I write because…’. If you’re stuck, you can use it to write your way out of a problem, for instance starting with a line like, ‘my character behaves like this because…” and see where it takes you. I’ve done all of these things, but this last week, for five mornings in a row, I’ve started with, “my book is about” and it’s helped me to get to chapter one.
Secondly, I set myself a real and ambitious deadline. I had taken a week off work, which coincided with the deadline for entry into the Bridport Prize. I had two days to write 5,000 words if I wanted to enter. The novel didn’t need to be a completed work. Could I do it? There was an outside chance. So, I decided to give it a go. It was in my head, I had a vague outline for the first three scenes and I went for it. Amazingly, I hit the deadline and I entered my first (and only) 5,000 words alongside a 300 word synopsis.
I harbour no expectations of making the long list with a first draft written in 48 hours, but I now have a jumping off point and a 300 word guide for the rest of the book. Foundations and direction. Not bad for two days work. Oh, and at least a year of stewing.
Unsurprisingly, I didn't make the long list, but I did continue writing. And that's what matters most.