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Write where it’s hot!

“Horses speak to me,” said the young woman on the couch. “They say I must write a book – but I have no clue where to begin.”

I was at a dinner party and the woman, Anne, had overheard me talking with another guest about my author coaching work. My interest was immediately piqued. Horses speak to her? Damn, that was a good story waiting to happen.

Anne then explained she was an animal communicator and she did a lot of work with horses. Recently, she had been getting intuitive downloads from horses and felt the urge to put the messages in writing. “Somebody said I should map out the chapters,” she continued. “But I don’t know what the chapters are yet. Do I have to start with chapters? I’m stuck!”

I knew immediately that she had been given poor advice. For some situations, if you know your subject really well, it can be a good first step to map out a table of contents. But if horses are sending you telepathic messages or, like most fiction writers, you get blobs and blasts of inspiration in no particular order, then it’s way too early to start imposing a structure on the writing.

So I told Anne that a better way to start might simply be to write down the messages as they came to her without worrying about where it was going. “Write where it’s hot,” I said. In other words, write the parts that come to you, as soon as they come to you. Your job is to tune into the messages and take dictation. The other half of your job is to commit to a daily routine of writing. The routine creates a space in which more messages are downloaded and the story structure eventually reveals itself.

“You mean I don’t have to know beforehand how it will end and what it’s all about?” she said.

“Nope. And you can’t possibly know until you’ve written a good portion of it and a pattern starts to appear.”

She looked relieved at hearing that and was eager to spend time writing and exploring where it was all going.

I’m telling this story because even though this author is writing non-fiction, her situation is very much like fiction writers who know very little about their stories when they first appear in their imagination. We might get just a scene or two, or snatches of dialogue. My advice is to write that all down without questioning where it’s going. Write where it’s hot. Eventually, the story will start taking a shape, and then you can fine tune that shape with your knowledge of fiction plotting or non-fiction structure. Don’t feel you have to know everything about your story before it’s possible to know it. Most stories unfold to the surprise of the author.

PS… the “write where it’s hot” advice can be broadened to “work where it’s hot”. Sometimes this will mean writing and sometimes it will mean mapping out your story structure. And sometimes it might mean learning more about writing and doing courses and exercises. Follow the excitement in the moment. And if you feel dull and unexcited, do freewriting – the ultimate don’t-know-where-to-start medicine!

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