How do I get started writing?

How do I get started writing?

Get started writing – how?

Every writers’ forum I’ve spent time in has had someone, sometime, show up asking ‘how do I get started writing?’ At this point I always find myself needing to take my hands off my keys and wrestle down a sarcastic response like ‘Start typing’.

After a few months of feeling vaguely guilty every time the situation occurred, it came to me that while the question that kept triggering my sarcasm reflex was a dumb one, there were possibly a few underlying questions more worth offering time to.

Ignoring the fact that some people really do show up on forums and ask stupid questions simply for attention, writing a book can be overwhelming. Here are some thinking points to make it more overwhelming.

Hubble, bubble, boil and trouble

If I were to write a 101 Guide to Getting Started Writing, some twenty years of fiction writing later, I’d have to say that there are a few vital ingredients that need to be tossed in the pot if you hope to make the magic happen.

  • A dash of crazy. No sane person decides to write a book, spends a year or so of their lives writing, editing, and formatting it, and does all this knowing full well that they’ll never get paid for their time.
  • A heaping teaspoon of inspiration. You’re crazier than I am if you’ll waste months or a year of time for no remuneration and without something to write about that gets your blood pumping, whether it’s space battles or how to come up with the perfect hall decor.
  • A solid dose of grammatical understanding (substitute a silly amount of money here if you have it). If you can’t be bothered to learn or look up basic grammar and punctuation rules for your language of choice, or don’t want to pay someone who does to edit your work, stop writing now and back away from the manuscript slowly. There’s a difference between idiot savant and idiot.

What genre should I write?

Doesn’t matter, it’s not catching.

If you have a good story to tell, it doesn’t matter if it’s about terraforming Mars or a half-siren ‘acquisitions specialist’ being paid to acquire the Peaches of Immortality. Good story-telling never goes out of style. On the topic of trying to follow writing ‘fads’, check out Writing Myths: slay the dragon.

I know someone who manages to mix sci-fi, steampunk, and fantasy – and I can’t put their books down. I also know someone who invented the entire genre of elfrotica.

If you want to know more about genres of writing, I suggest you pull up a search engine and dig in. Wikipedia is always a good place to start. If someone’s harassing you to come out of the writing closet as a certain genre, I suggest smiling sweetly and telling them that you aspire to be original.

But which writing house will the Sorting Hat put me in?

Writers tend to gravitate to one end or other of a spectrum that ranges from ‘pantser’ at one end to ‘plotter’ at the other. Read on to discover which school of writing wizardry best suits you.

To avoid any embarrassing misconceptions, it may be important to note at this point that ‘pantser’ in this context refers to one who flies by the seat of their pants. It does not necessarily relate to their state of dress or undress whilst engaged in the practice of writing.

You may be a pantser if you have voices in your head, a setting, and no idea in the world how it’s all going to end, but you can’t stop thinking about it and you’ve already had detention for drawing spaceships in class.

You may be a plotter if you have a ton of post-it notes arranged in careful patterns on your wall, detailing the main idea, the sub-ideas, the plot arc, the chapter beats, the sub-arcs (with the kinky bits inserted on the hot pink notes) and have a file on your protagonist detailed down to their first word and the exact position of the mole on their arse.

Which is best? That’s the great thing – there is no ‘best’. There’s the approach that works for you, and the others, which don’t. Most people fall somewhere in between.

Give me facts! I cannot make bricks without clay!

The fact is that the amount of actual money to be made from writing hit rock bottom about a decade ago and then started burrowing. Think I’m kidding? These guys did the math: The Authors’ Guild – The Wages of Writing.

Additionally, traditional publishing houses are taking on fewer and fewer new authors, while trumpeting ever louder that independent authors, or ‘indies’ are the leeches on the underbelly of professional writing. Therefore, starting to write books with the idea that fame and fortune await is delusional, so you’d better have another reason for doing it (see the heaping teaspoon requirement).

If those facts haven’t put you off, then at least you’ve got the dash of crazy. Congratulations (…I think).

So how will I know if I’m doing it right?

Assassin’s Creed II

Assassin  “Where other men blindly follow the truth, remember…”

Initiate: “Nothing is true.”

Assassin: “Where other men are limited by morality or law, remember…”

Initiate: “Everything is permitted.”

This quote is particularly applicable to writing. The way I do it won’t be the way you do it. The way J. K. Rowling does it will be different from both of us. None of the three of us is ‘wrong’. Some people use a pencil, others touch-type at 100 WPM, others again dictate to voice conversion software.

Write whatever way blows your skirt up. There is no set of commandments. The only restrictions are your imagination and your writing ability.

Background to Mama Gale

Background to Mama Gale

The inspiration for Mama Gale

Believe it or not, my godmother by courtesy was a lady named Cyralene Gale, and she ran the Bequia Bookshop until sometime in the early 1990s. Needless to say, she was neither a witch nor several hundred years old; she was originally from Barbados, but had lived on Bequia with her husband, Ian Gale, for longer than I’d been alive.

When I was a kid and we happened to be anchored in Port Elizabeth, one of my favourite things to be allowed to do was to go and hang out in their bookshop and dust the books, and occasionally, be allowed to stay over up at their house in the hills. Every so often, they would come out to our yacht for lunch – a visit which usually lasted well into the afternoon.

So, when I was looking for a name for this character, it was a given that she was going to be called Gale.

Mama Gale in Death is for the Living

Mama Gale is a bit of a mystery figure. She holds significant authority over the Bahamian hunter teams; she and Francis Hardy know each other well, and she’s got a history with Sean, Cristina, and Jean.

We first meet her directly after the Artemis’s return to their home port, when she comes aboard to decide what shall be done with the vampire captive, and not at all coincidentally, to evaluate Sean and Cristina.

‘…he stood, belatedly, as an Islands woman in a patterned dress came up the ladder, followed by Cristina. The setting sun, a huge red ball hanging just above the edge of the sea, illuminated her mass of silver hair.’

By the time we meet her, she appears elderly, but her authority is unquestionable. Francis defers to her; she shuts the team loudmouth down with a few well-chosen words. Although she is clearly powerful, it’s an adjunct to who she is.

‘…either immune or oblivious to the humming power coming off the tall, portly lady wearing her bright dress like a robe of office in the middle of their cockpit.’

Mama Gale is, by intent, more of a wise woman in the true sense of the phrase than a witch or a voodoo priestess (both of which character types have been done to death in my not-even-slightly-humble opinion).

She sees almost everything, but she comes across as a very calm presence, even if that is with a distinct undercurrent that it’s the calm at the eye of the hurricane, and she could unleash some serious whup-ass if the situation happened to call for it.

INTJ personalities as writers…and characters

INTJ personalities as writers…and characters

The Myers-Briggs INTJ

Variously known as ‘the Masterminds’ or ‘the Architects’, INTJ personalities are the third-rarest personality type in the human population (2.1%), and the rarest type for women (0.9%).

What’s my Myers-Briggs personality type?

Because INTJs value facts and logic above all else, they’re lousy leader’s followers. Tell an INTJ to do something that they deem to be stupid or illogical, or feed them a line of BS, and you lose their interest and respect immediately. They’re also generally heavily introverted (there’s the ‘I’ for you), and when forced into a social situation, loathe pointless small-talk above all other unholy perversions. It tires them, it bores them, and they’d much rather be alone with their thoughts (‘T’) or a good book.

There’s also a strong correlation between a high IQ and INTJ, so chances are your INTJ acquaintance may not be Einstein, but they’re very likely in the 115 IQ points and up segment of the population.

To complete an INTJ’s social alienation, they’re also highly intuitive (‘N’), meaning that from their earliest memories (usually starting around age 2), their brains have been storing bits and snippets of observation, fact, and fiction like a magpie in a silver shop, and anything you say or do will be unconsciously run against all this stored data and meet the ‘J’ (judgement) part of the personality type.

The INTJ writer

…actually, writing meets almost all the criteria for an INTJ to deem it shiny. It’s a highly solitary pursuit, it requires research, it requires attention to detail, and it requires having your ducks in a row.

INTJs are analytical (fine, yes, we could stop at anal) and objective, which means that whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, it’s going to be researched, structured, and probably have a sting in the tail. They may not bother to simplify their thoughts very much, which can lead readers to find their work complex, but by and large, it’s liable to be worth the effort.

INTJ writers include Isaac Asimov, Jane Austen, Stephen Hawking, and Jean-Paul Sartre. My source posits Robert Heinlein as well, which would make me happy since he’s one of my favourite sci-fi writers. I actually loathe Jane Austen with a passion, but I do understand I’m in a minority there.

The INTJ character

Because this type is so rare, and not in the least touchy-feely, a lot of writers either avoid this type altogether or try to write one and fall wide of the mark. INTJ female characters even more so, not least because the norm is not to challenge social stereotypes so far as to discomfort the audience, and a female INTJ needs a knight in shining armour like a fish needs a bicycle.

I put it to you that INTJ characters are worth the effort to research, if you don’t happen to be an INTJ or know any to ask, and I say this because they make great cliché-disruptors for a story-line. They’re not always nice people. They will always do what they think is the most logical thing to do. They will always be somewhere in the background, watching, thinking, and judging. Your basic INTJ, by most standards, is an arsehole. They’re also highly effective, intelligent arseholes who are physically incapable of forgetting and only have a nodding acquaintance with the concept of forgiving.

Your assassin-scout-mage character is a great INTJ fit, as is the sneak-thief or the evil vizier. You may also find the occasional paladin in the bunch, but as a rule INTJs are too pragmatic to make a heroic last stand unless it’s actually going to work. They make fantastic mercenaries, evil geniuses, and lone wolves.

One of the best INTJ-type anti-heroes I ever read was Dorothy Dunnett’s Francis Crawford of Lymond. He describes (The Game of Kings) himself as being perceived as a mountebank: “Versatility is one of the few human traits which are universally intolerable. You may be good at Greek and good at painting and be popular. You may be good at Greek and good at sport, and be wildly popular. But try all three and you’re a mountebank. Nothing arouses suspicion quicker than genuine, all-round proficiency.”

Corina (Kein System, III)

Corina (Kein System, III)

Confidential report, Corina (Kein III)

Kein (system 29-Y-54) is a mainline star with an estimated 9 billion-year viable lifespan remaining. Its system includes ten planets and two asteroid belts; third planet, in the green zone for humanoid life, was cleared for First Wave colonization, but no trace of the original colony was ever found. Second Wave expansion was successful with minimal adjustment. Amino structure is friendly, and indigenous life was carbon-based. Minimal terraforming required, gravity registers as 1.3 Standard, atmospheric mix requires intervention in 9.8% of standard humanoids.

Registered humanoid population at time of this report: 1.1 billion. Cortiian population: unknown.

Cortiian Base

The planet of Corina (Kein III) is of interest to the committee. It is home to one of the terrestrial Cortiian Bases, one of the closest Cortiian outposts to Central Worlds. As such, various efforts at rapprochement have been made, with notable lack of success. The Cortiian Councils extend their condolences on our losses through diplomatic channels.

Earliest records of this Base’s existence date back to the founding of the colony. The Cortiian Councils made no objection to the arrival of colonists; their territory is well-defined, agreed under planetary contract [file:29Y54/3-00001ct], and frequently patrolled. Remote scanning from space indicates the approximate location of the Base within that territory, but neither instrumentation nor independent research has narrowed Base location sufficiently for detail work. Three valleys of suitable size and stability have been proposed. Efforts are ongoing to confirm the site.

Cortiian territory spans an extensive region in the Equatorial zone of the planet, and is comprised of mountains (-382 metres to +7867 metres elevation range). Vegetation to the treeline is tropical jungle and undergrowth. Lower elevations include surface water and swamps. Highest elevations include minimal glaciation (0.12% planetary glaciation). Volcanic activity in the area is negligible, but seismic activity is common.

Observation indicates that this Base is one of the larger ones on record, with an estimated population of between 35 and 60 thousand.


Trespassers are found and turned back within minutes of the border area, despite all efforts. Based on recorded approaches (variance/actual of -/+ 4%), 0.6% of those trespassing on Cortiian territory do not return. Of those, 0.02% have their Federation citizenship cancelled within a month of their arrival on Cortiian territory. We are forced to assume voluntary recruitment.

In-atmosphere surveillance goes dark at the border, regardless of hardening technique employed. Efforts are ongoing.

Space-based surveillance is limited to a narrow window, as the Councils operate a geo-synch station in orbit over the Base. Approach is denied on a formal and informal level. Scans indicate that the lower two-thirds (63% of the structure) are derelict, but infiltration via this route has been unsuccessful. Upper third is heavily armed and sees frequent traffic, in system and out; theorised that some of this may be supplies for the Base. Precise shipment volumes unknown.

Requests for assistance in the immediate area are responded to promptly by Cortiian ships, usually with an escort of fighter hulls. Falsified details on these hails have been met with aggression (file: 29Y54/3GS-843AST). Mission repair files indicate that the original reported damage to the hull precisely matched the eventual repairs required.


Known units operating from Corina include (list is not exhaustive):

  • Alzan Cortia: Commander Evor Leistor
  • As’ra’tan Cortia: Commander Senja Ventiva
  • Emin Cortia: Commander Alsik id Merya
  • Ghen Cortia: Commander Baera Dalth
  • Me’s’an Cortia: Commander Verali Quha
  • Ratha Cortia: Commander Teran Monik
  • Wildcat Cortia: Commander Khyria Ilan
  • Zebrani Cortia: Commander Ashan Maklin
Dreaming of reality

Dreaming of reality

It’s cute how people try to break everything down into manageable chunks. It’s like watching a five-year-old doing a jigsaw, and turning that last piece of sky around five times to get it to fit in a four-sided hole.

I especially love listening to them on the science of dreaming. ‘Dreaming is a mental filing system.’ ‘They’re metaphors for your repressed sexuality.’ ‘Did you know that every face you see in a dream is the face of someone you’ve seen, at some point in your life?’ Actually, by sheer dumb luck, that last might be the one point they aren’t wrong about.

I suppose everyone has to get lucky sometime…there’s a thought I’d’ve lived happily without.

Anyway, thank the Consciousness, dreaming isn’t a mental filing system, so I won’t have to face the images that calls up some night.

Dreaming is what the conscious mind remembers when you travel between realities. There you go. The big secret, Guide for Dummies style.

Because the human mind is basically a thin skim of intelligence (very, very, very thin in most cases) wrapped around a consciousness that started out remarkably recently as a kind of slime with ambitions (you’ve heard this story, yes?) – essentially, it can’t contain and process what it experiences. When you fall asleep, you travel between realities. It happens to everyone. Your only solution is never to sleep again, and we know what the experts say about that.

Ever had to deal with people who can’t remember to how to tie their shoes or that they had an appointment scheduled? Chances are good those people are falling through this reality, have no idea why they’re here or what they’re supposed to be doing, and consequently aren’t coping well. (Don’t worry, they’ll wake up – with some odd memories about odder dreams.)

On the flip side, if you’re one of those people who has dreams like immersive films, complete with sound, smell and every other sensation, and you can actually remember them once you wake up…well, you’re wasting your life at whatever you think you’re doing. Give me a call, we’ll do dinner. If you’re one of those rarities, you have the ability to travel realities intentionally. Seriously, give me a call. We need you.

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