You ask any author what the hardest part of the job is, and you’ll get one of a hundred different answers. Some think it’s editing and revising, some think it’s naming characters, some it’s writing a satisfactory ending, and so on. I personally think it’s almost all of the above. (I’d say which, specifically, but writers are like magicians and we have to keep some mystery. Unless we’re writing mysteries, in which case we have to dispel any mystery in the end. Like I said, it’s a difficult job. It does help to be insane.) I have tackled this question before, and I thought I answered it, but I was wrong.
The very hardest part of the job is starting. And I don’t mean staring at that piece of paper (yes, I find working on paper helps the process, and you youngsters can ask your parents what “paper” is), I mean coming up with the idea that will lead to someday putting pencil (ask) to paper. It’s hard enough to know what to write, but it’s even harder to know what to write about.
And even that’s not as easy as it looks: You have to define your terms. When you say you’re going to write “about” a space pirate working as a privateer/spy for the king of one star system fighting a cold war against the king of another star system, what kind of story are you trying to write? Is it going to be a “message piece” where “war is bad” is inherent in your tale, or are you writing about the pirate himself and how he views his own life, or are you penning a straight spacebuckler? (Hands off, I just made that up. Honest. Just this minute.)
In a perfect world, you will incorporate all of these elements, but you have to be careful. If the first or second outweighs the third, you risk being boring (and having people yell at you). If the third outweighs the others, you’ll never get any critical respect (or award nominations). So it helps to have some idea which it’s going to be before you start. (Ironically, the fact that you can always change your mind later makes things even worse, not better.)
Me, I almost never know what I’m going to write about next. I have notebooks full of ideas, but seldom do I use one. I have proto-plots for at least five novels in my head, but I don’t really want to take the time to write a novel at the moment. So here I sit, plotting out a blog instead, because 500 words is easier than 5000.
And yet, what good is it to coin a word like “spacebuckler” if you’re not going to use it? Hmmm…