Starting the Writing Journey: First Steps

I recall once being told that our desires hint towards our abilities and even, possibly, undiscovered talents. For a long time now I’ve wanted to write stories and even make them into film and other visual media. I’ve been thinking about this ever since my earliest days at uni.  I had the chance to write short screenplay when I was studying English Literature and the adaptation of novels into film. I adapted a scene from the Iliad, the meeting between Achilles and Priam, and Priam’s night journey to get there. I don’t think it was that good at all, but I loved the experience of immersing myself in the story, visualising it, hearing it, and putting it on paper.

That was nearly 15 years ago and after that I delved deeper and deeper into the workings of epic narrative and character development. For much of this time this consumed my creative energy. But for the last couple of years and especially since finishing the thesis I’ve felt the internal prodding to write repeatedly. I used to be able to say I had no stories. Of course I did, I just didn’t see them as such. In a way I think I saw myself in my own story and I was sort of waiting to see how it unfolded before I could tell my own. If there is one thing a little time has given me that is perspective, and I think this has is important in storytelling. Being a perfectionist, the hardest thing about starting this is knowing that I’m going to be pretty awful at first – well not me, but my stories. Especially dialogue. On this question I’m going to take a lead from my cycling experience.

A couple of year ago, before I started riding more seriously, I used to look at the hills around us and hear about the big well-known climbs. The very thought of them was very intimidating, so much so that I really avoided them altogether for ages. This has been my approach to dialogue. It’s a necessary part of story and screenwriting, and I want to do it, but…   With time and a huge amount of effort, I’ve become a good climber and a strong rider generally. That is I’m now able to do long and short climbs with good speed and I’ve developed the conditioning to ride over 1000km a month in very hilly country. Serious riders make ride out to where we live specifically for the hills that start at our door, almost literally.  This was an unimaginable scenario a couple of years ago.

So what I want now is to look back a couple of years from now and be able to see that I’ve become a good storyteller, not overnight, but with practice, learning and being inspired by others. Maybe I’ll find a mentor. In the meantime, I learn a lot just by watching and reading. Currently I’m really enjoying and appreciating the great writing and character development in the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire. I also remind the perfectionist within how bad so many scripts are, even for some of my favourite films. The point being that craft is great but not essential to create a story or film that captures the imagination of the audience.

My experience tells me another thing, to trust that the resources I need will be there to support this journey. Whenever I’ve embarked on journeys like this before, both of the travelling and learning kind, this has been the case. Guides, mentors and teachers have crossed my path. I’ve found the necessary resources and support that have enabled me to pursue my path.

So we’ll see. I’ve started to make a few small steps forward, writing down the fragments that come to mind. I know I just have to do what I can at first. The more I do, the more ideas and images develop in my imagination. Imagination is like a muscle really, use it often and it strengthens.

Have you had a similar experience, or is there something you’d like to start but have been putting off? You’re most welcome to share your own below.

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4 thoughts on “Starting the Writing Journey: First Steps

  1. For a long time I filled many notebooks with drawings, ideas, thoughts. This made me realize that even if a thought feels great in my mind, it often falls apart once it’s on paper. A character looks good in the mind, but his representation an paper disapointed me. This stopped me from writing and drawing longer stories, until a friend convinced my to start a blog. I still struggle, but through the struggle I learn so much.

    • Thanks very much for your comments. The struggle is essential I think, it’s integral to the path of mastery which is constant learning. Drawing was my main creative outlet for a long time as well. Most people would just put the quality of my work down to talent and they’d be discouraged after a couple of attempts. But I knew I’d spent probably thousands of hours practicing, in part motivated by the frustration I often felt between the difference between my drawings and the images in my mind’s eye. This frustration was balanced by the growing satisfaction and enjoyment that drawing gave me. The key I think was having mental images and scenes that I wanted to draw. For a long time I’ve been inspired to write on the hero and politics and this has kept me doing it again and again while refining my skills in the process. Thinking about this now in response to you, I’m sure this will be the key for storytelling as well, having stories big and small, that demand to be told. This is that organic and quite uncontrollable part of the art, as we don’t control which images or stories emerge for the telling through us. It helps I think to look to those creators we respect and whose efforts are visible, who don’t just perpetuate the myth of the easy genius. Drawing on my cycling again, I started to really improve when I realised just how much the champions suffer and just how hard they have to work, day in day out. Riders like Cadel have the pain written on their faces. This is the real ‘work’ of the creative process, staying with our muse through draft after draft mastering our craft.

      • James I look forward to reading your work on the hero in politics. My”journey”( tiring of that word) is from story-telling – a life-long love – to paring down a narrative. Poetry , finding the essence, the flavour, reducing a 2000 word story to 4 stanzas, is challenging and satisfying, Recently refined the long, rambling story of Eros and Psyche to 4 stanzas.
        You draw and write. I make music and write. At present I’m improvising (piano) on Eros and Psyche.
        Good luck on your writing “journey”(ouch).

      • Hi Katherine, thanks for your comments. The story of Eros and Psyche is lovely. Have you read the account told in The Golden Ass. It’s really the gem in this ancient novel. It was one of the texts that really opened my eyes to classical literature before I started uni. You might also be interested in some of the other classical poets like Pindar, if you haven’t read them already of course.
        I’m inclined to agree, ‘Journey’ is a rather overused term, but it does convey much of what we want it to, so until we find a better one, it’ll have to do. I’m always happy to get suggestions.
        Just to clarify, my work thus far has straddled two largely separate strands, the hero in Greek epic being the main one, and strategy/international affairs being the second. I did bring them together in my doctoral thesis. My shift into storytelling is going away from these, though naturally they, along with my life experience generally, provide the foundation from which I’m working. In a way though, I find it useful to forget much of this. I’m sure all the archetypes and stages will be there in the end, but I want them to find their way into my tales organically. Once I have something I’m reasonably happy with I’ll be keen to share with you and whoever else might read it.
        Thanks again for your interest and best wishes on your creative ‘journey’ as well! (sorry couldn’t resist that one!)

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