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Write On! Features: How To Begin Writing by Millie Murray

by Millie Murray

Everyone writes, or has written at some point in their lives. The most obvious place where writing experiences have occurred, is during one’s school years. This is regardless of one’s writing ability. I’m generalising, of course, but when people state, “I would like to be a writer,”  they must already know what the required basic components are.

Following on from the capability to write comes the hard truth in becoming an author, namely:

Self-confidence, determination, perseverance, initiative, hard-working, motivation, creativity, commitment, consistency, and the list goes on. You may have observed I haven’t included talent or academic achievement. Yes, maybe some talent, but academia is not necessary to succeed as a writer!

There isn’t a fool-proof plan that, if followed ,will enable a person to produce a novel, even a masterpiece. This is a good thing, because one size does not always fit all.

So, where to begin? It would make sense to concur that the start of writing a book, is to begin at the beginning. Not so. Some authors start their books at the end or the middle of the story and work around the nucleus of their idea until the story pans out in the correct order: Beginning, Middle and End.

The encompassing and prevailing belief that one has the desire to undertake such a lofty endeavour, is overwhelming. It can also be the point at which one gives up before the project is positioned at the starting block.

Therefore, there are a few things to consider when embarking on a book. One is that you, the writer, will be narrating a story through the written word. You’re a storyteller, first and foremost.

For me as a writer, this initial step and entire process requires much thought. These thoughts will be extended, bent, twisted, agonised, internalised and externalised on the page and in your mind, suffering various degrees of angst, feelings of excitement and sadness, a dash of ecstasy and full-out sated relief when completed. Story writing- and -telling is definitely more of a cross-country run, heptathlon, distance swimming marathon, as opposed to a short sprint or jog!

Much like a woman during pregnancy, followed by labour and finally the birth of the child. Joy and pain. Still want to write? OK.

Just remember: the burning desire of an idea or a personal experience, a painful or pleasant memory, or just plain interest in a subject must be strong enough to sustain a book, of which the length can vary.

You have a kernel of an idea, or a deep-rooted belief of a notion you feel would be a good book. Have you noticed your ideas are actually rooted in you? It’s the job of the writer to dig out and uproot the hidden gems lying in our subconscious. Added to which, is the ability to absorb information that’s floating around waiting to be incorporated into your story mixture to make a tale that will have readers totally fixated.

Things to think about: What genre does your story fit? Are you familiar with this type of story? For example:

To write a story set during war time, there would have to be a war occurring in your story. Likewise, a crime would have to have been committed in a crime story. You get the picture? This may seem obvious, but a writer can get so caught up in what is happening in their story with the characters that they ‘forget’ the backstory or the genre their story revolves around.

Talking of characters, creating them, and making them believable, multi-dimensional, reflecting real life is the pinnacle of any story.

Great characters such as: The Artful Dodger, Bilbo Baggins, Rhett Butler, Erik Killmonger, Alex Cross, Eliza Doolittle, Sherlock Holmes, Ethan Hunt, Annalise Keating, George Smiley, and the countless Agatha Christie characters. There’s lots more and room for your characters to become a lasting memory too!

When embarking on a new story, one of the first things to enter my mind is the subject matter. My first venture into writing a novel was a young adult book. I wanted to explore the theme of parental separation/divorce and how that might affect a young person. I’d never experienced that situation myself, so I did some research by asking people I knew who had been through that ordeal and also read books and articles on the subject until I felt I could attempt to write about it.

Next came the protagonist who would be the ‘vehicle’ travelling the road of my narrative, taking the reader on a riveting ride. I had the character’s facial appearance in my mind and roughly how she looked overall. Her name was the bugbear. Until I had captured her name in my head, I couldn’t move forward with my story. When I finally settled on a name I felt fitted my character, it was full steam ahead. KIESHA (also the title of the book) was born, and it was she who led me through the different segments of her life which appeared in the book.

I have found that some writers go through similar experiences until the puzzle or pieces of the important elements for their story falls into their rightful place. Then they can move on, either tentatively or confidently, to completion.

Writing every day is a must (which I have yet to master!). That said, writing regularly and as often as one is able, will get the job done. I’ve tried early morning sessions, afternoons and late-night sessions to push my tale over the finishing line. I have Post-it notes, index cards, notebooks, pieces of paper to write down thoughts, parts of conversation, news items and suggestions from friends and family. I have used some, forgotten others and gone with my own feelings in disregarding the rest.

I type my story straight onto a keyboard, as it never entered my head to write long-hand. Other writers prefer the physical handling of a pen or pencil gliding over parchment, (sorry, paper). Discover what’s most comfortable and productive for yourself in terms of getting your creative juices flowing.

Once the story is over, the relief and joy felt is immeasurable and the satisfaction can be tremendous. Seeing your hard work in tangible form makes it all worthwhile.

Are you ready to start?


Millie Murray was born in 1958 to Jamaican parents. An RSL* Fellow, and from the east of London, she writes novels, short stories and non-fiction for both young people and adults. Her work has appeared on Radio 4 and BBC television. Millie’s career has spanned acting, dance and theatre production and she currently offers school creative writing and motivational development workshops for the London Boroughs of Newham, Barking and Dagenham.

*[RSL Fellow – Member Of Fellowship, The Royal Society Of Literature]


Issue 19 of Write On! is out now and you can read it online here. Find it in libraries and other outlets. You can find previous editions of our magazines here.

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Some authors start their books at the end or the middle of the story and work around the nucleus of their idea until the story pans out in the correct order: Beginning, Middle and End.