If you’re putting your pen to paper or fingers to keyboard for the first time on a story, you really aren’t starting at all. You probably “started” writing the piece some time before – in your head.
That “thinking step” is known in the writing process as brainstorming. It is where you come up with the idea for the story; it is that first mad scribble of notes about your characters, their conflicts, where the setting the story will occur, a catchy title and more.
There is no magical answer for making the muse bless you with inspiration. The ways story ideas come varies greatly, even for authors in the same genre. Some writers only can create when stress free. Others need to be in a tumultuous environment. Some need to delve into good books, examine great art, and listen to fine music. Others need a blank, almost sterile room so their mind can focus.
Regardless, once inspiration does strike, you’re ready to brainstorm. In fact, you’ll probably just do it naturally (and usually when there’s no pen or paper handy!)
The biggest challenge facing you when brainstorming is to prevent your self-doubts from hindering your creativity. Don’t tell yourself a story idea is lousy. It may indeed be lousy, but by allowing yourself to explore the possibilities, you might stumble upon an idea that’s pretty darn good. Be curious not critical. Criticism comes later when you start outlining your work (which is the next step in the writing process) and lasts through the revising of it.
In addition to generating your idea, brainstorming can involve collection of information to help you formulate your story idea. If it involves a historical romance set in the beginning of the Roman Empire, you may want to read about the time of Caesar and Augustus. This likely will spur further ideas about your book, perhaps even whole scenes.
In many ways, the brainstorming portion of the writing process is the most fun. It’s a time when you let your mind dream freely and your visions soar, leaving practical questions like, “Who is my reader?” (which could alter the plotting and style of your book) for later.