The Trouble with Beginnings

Sometimes the secret is to begin. Just picking up a pen or a pencil unlocks the imagination. But beginning a new story can be new-snow exciting or blank-page terrifying.

Therapeutic Scribble,
(recycled paper of course)
Sometimes the problem is how to begin. After a book or two you think you've got the hang of it  'I can do it, I'm a planner now'  That's what I thought at the end of book 2 but as Neil Gaiman says you only learn to write (make) the book you're on. He also says that people rarely begin with nothing. There's usually some idea, a character or a setting to place on the blank page. That's when our angst may niggle like an anxious mother and say 'don't spoil it', 'be careful not to make a mistake'. Gaiman's solution is to tell himself that it doesn't matter nobody will see it, there's always another page. I think we all need some therapeutic scribbling over a good few sheets before we start.

And when do you begin? It shouldn't really be at the beginning of the story. Recently I've got into the habit of putting characters in terrible predicaments and the problem hasn't so much been working out how to get them out but how they got there in the first place. Finding my backstory beginning after I've started has been hard. Rosemary Bird-Hawkins' world building feature on Wednesday this week is really helpful for filling in those gaps and finding elusive beginnings.

The 2014  Undiscovered Voices anthology is due online by the end of next week...

The Beginning or The End?
At the beginning of this new year, I'm finishing something. I don't know if it will make it but I'm finishing with hope that it will be the beginning of something else because that's what ends usually are. Who knows? Hopefully the end of Undiscovered Voices 2014 with The Winners' Announcement this week will signal the beginning of a new phase for the the 12 writers and 5 illustrators who have a place in the anthology, due online by the end of next week - so exciting!

Words & Pictures would like to give 2014's honorary mentions the opportunity to share their running up entries in March.

I very much hope too, that this will be a beginning for those nearly there, the long listed illustrators and writers awarded an honorary mention. Words & Pictures would like to give 2014's honorary mentions the opportunity to share their running up entries in March. So if that's you, you have a couple of months to get your excerpt or illustration spruced up on a web page for us to link to in one big Honorary Mention Celebration.

On Monday, Philippa pondered on how decks have to be cleared to start something new. Also her brilliant post on this week may resonate with those of us who find beginning difficult. I didn't begin for a long time because I thought I didn't have an imagination and then, hopefully not too late, I discovered beginning is the key.

On Tuesday it was wonderful to read through Nick's Blog Break that so very-nearly-there, so close you couldn't slip a gnats whisker between her and a deal, Kathy Evans has a new story pouring from her fingers.

On Thursday it was great to see what Central North got up to at Christmas. We have an online life here through W&P,, Facebook and Yahoo but nothing beats actually getting together in the flesh and I love to read about these fleshy happenings around the country.

If you're a beginner illustrator, on Friday John Shelley gave W&P a fantastic picture book primer with the fourth part of his Picture Book Basics. These are so good, any storyteller can benefit from his expertise - whether from words, or colour and line, we're all trying to create pictures.

Next week's treats include:

  • Sara O'Connor with Ask a Publisher on Monday
  • Bekki Hill! on Wednesday
  • and on Friday, the man behind last month's splendid Advent Calendar, Paul Morton, is here looking at Web Portfolios for Illustrators

I'm writing this on Sunday morning again because yes, I have trouble beginning. Midway through my tapping, the shopping arrived with a complimentary bottle of fizz, hurray! A sign perhaps of something new? Because I'm hoping with my hopiest hope that maybe this year, I'll need it,

Here's to your beginnings,
Have a great week!
Jan Carr

Jan Carr is the editor of Words & Pictures. Her fiction is older middle grade, she blogs occasionally and loves to write in magenta. You can contact her at


  1. I get terrible beginning-paralysis on almost every task I do! I tend to mentally zoom out to the widest possible problem space, which makes the task seem impossible. I've found drawing mind maps on a really big sheet of paper to be a good way of tricking myself, so I can begin breaking the problem down and zeroing in on a start point.

  2. Yes, I always think of everything all at once - I have a huge problem focussing. So for me actually beginning by stepping in helps - for more than just writing stories:)


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