Your beliefs about writing may actually be sabotaging the process. Here are some myths about writing and some different ways of thinking about them.
Myth: Characters will take on their own personalities and will, at some point, move the narration along as if they were the ones speaking.
Reality: Don’t count on it. It might be true that characters may lead you, the author, in unexpected directions. But the only way they can take on a personality is if you give them one. The number one question an author needs to ask themselves in relationship to character is ‘what would this person I created do in this circumstance?’ Motivation has to be consistent without being predictable. As an author, it is your job to create a unique person so that person will behave in interesting ways.
Myth: A good story tells itself.
Reality: While connected to the first myth, the idea is that writing isn’t work. Writing IS work. That isn’t bad. It just requires a lot of thought. The world is a complicated place. A book, to be worth reading and writing, needs to be a complicated place as well to feel real. That doesn’t mean you share all the complications with the reader. The author has to know what part of that they are writing about, to know everything about it, and then share the parts that are relevant to the story. It’s kind of like making a chocolate cake from scratch. You have to have all the ingredients, know how to put them together. You don’t describe the process when you serve it. The ‘audience’ will just know that the cake really tastes good.
Myth: Write what you know.
If this were true, no one could ever write historical fiction or fantasy. A better condition might be to write what you are able to learn. Can you invent a world with robots without knowing what the robots in your story look like or are capable of? No, but you can invent them, draw a picture, make a list. Not all writing is telling the story. Can you write a story set in Paris if you’ve never been there? It depends. How much research are you willing to do? How much of the story depends on the setting? Do you just need to know how long it takes to get from the Louvre to the Arc de Triumph? That information is available. Do you want your character to wander the streets for hours, need to be able to describe the actual buildings located at the corner of such and such a street and an alley where a bakery is located? That might be a bit more difficult. As above, you need to know more than you are sharing.
Myth: You have to be in the right mood to write.
Reality: Writing IS a mindset but that mindset is not ‘I only write when I feel like it.’ Writing is, like anything else, a form of discipline. In this case, the discipline is primarily mental which means concentration. Create a space in your day, whether it is always the same time or not (that depends on you) and prepare to concentrate. Don’t look at your phone. Don’t watch a video. Don’t check your Facebook page. This time is carved out. Even if you don’t put a single word on the page, you are writing if you are thinking about nothing but the piece you are working on. Usually, if you concentrate long enough, you will have ideas you need to put on the page.
Myth: Write at the same time every day.
Reality: This might be important for some people. The important thing is the idea above. Carve out time for writing. Make it a priority. Tie it to something necessary such as eating or sleeping or reading. I will write for ten minutes before dinner. I will write for a half hour before I go to sleep. I will put my clothes in the laundry and write while the washing machine is running. Fill all the empty spaces with writing.
Myth: Don’t read what you’ve already written before moving on.
Reality: Again, this is personal. Many writers like to cycle back for a bit before moving on to get the tone, or remember what was happening or because they can get the process moving by making a few editing changes before leaping into new material. Do what works for you but don’t be afraid to reread. Just don’t let that fill all your writing time.
Myth: Good writers can get it right in the first draft.
Reality: NO ONE gets it right in the first draft. In fact, many authors recommend just getting the thing on paper and then going back and actually ‘writing’ it. Again, everyone has a different approach but the thing most likely to stop a person from actually writing is fear of doing it badly. Some fear is healthy because it motivates you to question whether it could be better. Fear of bad writing is paralyzing. Go ahead and write badly. You’ll catch it on the second or third or fourth draft.