I wrote this during a workshop for the National Writing Project. We were talking about blank page syndrome and I thought it might help some writers out. Where to start? I have heard the question echoed in writing communities stretched across the far reaches of the internet, bubbling up from the same primordial ooze out of which our ancestors crawled. I’d like to imagine some pseudo-human standing poised, chisel in hand, staring blankly at a stone wall. In my own writing practice there have been countless days where the urge to write has filled me like the air in a balloon, pressure pushing from within in all directions. Yet, when I am confronted with the empty page, the energy collapses and my balloon of inspiration deflates into a limp lump of disappointment. Where to start? In the case of a work of fiction, there seems to be a pressure to start at the beginning. But contrary to a particular singing nun, the beginning is not always a great place to start. Rarely as writers do we know where our story begins. When I dream up a novel I imagine a character’s defining moment, a scrap of dialogue, a formulating memory. Putting these things together, I begin to see a semblance of a story, but I am far from the structure needed to start at the beginning. So, going back to the question: where to start? Let’s start with what we know. Don’t worry about where it falls on the timeline. I’m not saying outlining is a bad idea, I utilize them myself, but it is not always helpful to start with an outline. It’s important for us to ask ourselves as writers: What do I already know? It can be a strip of dialogue, the description of a person or room, perhaps a mere smell has the power to inspire a work of writing. Structure should come well after the joy of writing those small moments. A truly wonderful resource to help get any writer started would be a writer’s notebook. I have never spoken to a successful writer who did not swear by their notebook. Not only can a notebook be a place to record thoughts, ideas or inspiration, but it can also be a place to discover old snippets of golden thought. Nothing is more valuable to my writing practice than the ability to go back and read things I have written. It’s almost like having a ghost me that hovers in my peripheral pointing out lines of my writing that suddenly speak to me. As writers there is a familiar stress to write, and a guilt when the words won’t come. It is a seed of corruption that only separates us from our goal, our love. In these situations, it is important for us to remember that spark of inspiration, that fuzzy glimpse into a world of delicious unknown. There is no need to define it right away, first let us describe it. How does it make us feel? Let us use language as a conduit of emotion. For we are writers, you and I, and we see in ink, taste in letters, and feel in words. Touch that pen to that paper and let these emotions tell you where to start.