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A story lives in me, but where do I begin?

I've received numerous messages over the years from aspiring fiction writers who are unsure where to begin and how to move forward with the story they long to write. It can feel overwhelming and sometimes discouraging.

But you've already accomplished the first step -- you have a passion for storytelling. Now, you're looking for guidance on how to pour that story from your mind onto the page so that others can share in the experience.

There are a lot of opinions out there about how you should approach writing, and none of them are wrong. They worked for someone, but it's okay if they don't work for you. You are unique, your story is unique, and your method will be uniquely yours.

I'll share a little about different approaches, including mine. Maybe you'll find your own method somewhere in between.

Some people take writing classes to learn how to build a story. Apart from a dreadful memoir writing class in college, I didn’t take writing classes. I wrote, I read, I refined. You don't need a degree or a lot of experience in writing to start writing.

Some people read books about the "how to's" of writing. Use this tense or that, avoid this type of description. It can be beneficial, but you can also get bogged down in the technical stuff if you're not careful. Learn one thing, then use it in your writing. Learn another thing, and then incorporate that. Make sure you are moving forward while learning. Personally, I don’t read those kinds of books. I choose not to because I know myself, and the moment I begin to analyze every word I type, I will lose my passion for writing. I learn and grow as I go.

Some people plot out their stories step by step so they can write them faster. I don’t do that. I plan only the bare bones and then let the story take me on an adventure. I don’t always know who the villain will be, how or where the climax will happen, or what the lessons will be in each story. I don't even know much about my characters until we run into situations together.

Trying to plan everything out ahead of time not only stresses me out, but it stalls the story. Sometimes you have to take the first step and trust that you will find your way. And when your story stalls, and you're not sure what to write next, consider every possibility--even the laughably absurd ones--because they will spark your creativity and lead you to something better.

Some people write their story in chronological order. I don't do that. How could I write an authentically comical scene when my heart is hurting that day? Instead, I can experiment writing scenes where my main character is hurting. We can relate and feel together, and the scene becomes rich with authentic emotion. Writing out of order can make it difficult to plan dialogue between characters, but that is why I go back and move scenes and refine conversations later. I "humpty-dumpty" the book, as my hubby says.

Some people write to fit into a genre that is popular. I don't do that. I write the story that's inside of me, regardless of whether it fits the standard. My books straddle lines -- suspense, mystery, thriller, women's fiction--and I'm okay with that. My books would not be what they are if I tried to squeeze them into someone else's standard.

Many of us start with a book that is personal to us--a subject or character that hits close to home. Use that. Write what you know, even if it hurts. Writing can be cathartic.

Be open to feedback about how to strengthen your book. There are a lot of writers out there willing share what they have learned the hard way. Honest feedback can hurt, but growth is often preceded by discomfort. Choose to grow.

Start writing. Keep writing. Continue honing your style and skill.

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