Starting New Novel Projects (Writing)

Starting new novel projects can be the hardest thing to do. I’m the kind of writer that needs downtime between projects to recharge the batteries, and to find the time and energy to read for pleasure (though I’m going to try to do some of that every night if I can from now on, because my to-be-read pile is really starting to grow out of control.). I usually spend that time doing things like playing video games, or, as already mentioned, reading, or watching Buffy or SVU on DVD. I also spend a lot of time staring at Facebook and Twitter, perhaps hoping something interesting will pop up, or I take lots of naps. Often during this time, I’m working out things in my head and psyching myself up for the work ahead, so in a way I’m still writing, just in my head. But eventually, one must stop the procrastination and start doing some actual work of putting down words to paper…or in most cases these days, to the computer screen. For me, that time is quickly approaching again.

Starting new novel projects

Very soon, I’ll start up work on The Bone Flower Queen, book 2 of the Bone Flower Trilogy. Probably seems pretty late, huh? Well, I have no contract holding me to a deadline under penalty of quartering and “you’ll never work in this town again!”; one of the advantages of working with a small, newer press. But again I’ve already written about half of the book, so the urgency isn’t quite so bad as it would be if I had nothing done. I originally wrote one huge book, and I took the first half and that became The Bone Flower Throne. So what about the second half? Why isn’t it just two books?

Well, there are several big chunks of story missing out of it–important chunks that I skipped over in my newbie eagerness to “get to the good stuff” I’d been building towards the whole time. Further plotting and outlining revealed that I had in fact committed trilogy, despite my efforts to keep it to two books; there’s just too much to fit into a duology.  So there it is. I have two middle sections that need to be written before I can call draft one of book 2 finished, so really, not too bad, but not really like starting a completely new project.

So how do I go about starting new novel projects?

Starting New Novel Projects

The White Page of Doom!

At one time, I was a pantser; I just started writing and let the story take me where it wanted; that’s still how I write short fiction, when I write it. It’s quite easy to keep the full plot arc focused and clear in my head at such short lengths. But when it came to novels, I found myself constantly writing myself into corners, or in some cases off of cliffs. It’s not much hassle to have to back up 500 to 1k words if you make a misstep in a short story, but making that same mistake in a novel could mean having to cut 50k and have to restart where you went wrong. I had to face the fact that when starting new novel projects, planning ahead was the most efficient way to go about it for me. Not that I don’t ever make a wrong turn when plotting out before hand; sometimes I take the easy choice rather then the best one and end up having to go back and rework, but at the early stage I don’t worry about that.

What should you worry about?

Everyone’s got their own way, and I’m not a prescriptivist, so I can only relay my own experience. Typically, I’ll have some specific scenes in mind, and of course characters–I’m not starting anything at all unless I have some characters at least somewhat fleshed out in my mind. But mostly I need an ending before I can start; a theme, characters, a setting, none of that is any good to me without an ending. I have novels that I’d like to write that have nifty ideas and the inklings of characters, but unless I know what I’m aiming for, I won’t even contemplate starting. I have to have something to work towards. Some people can write without a goal in mind; I’ve even heard some say that knowing what happens ahead of time makes them lose interest, but when I hear that, I suspect they’ve never gotten beyond the first draft stage of writing a novel, for how do they maintain interest in the work long enough to do the necessary rewriting and the numerous edits an editor will ask for if they “already know what’s going to happen”?

Once I have an ending in mind, I take the parts I’ve put together and write a rough outline. My friend Janice Hardy recommends writing your query letter at this stage, and having done this with the alternate history romance novel, I think it’s a good idea. It’s much easier to write without a ton of story and side-plots getting in the way of what’s important: the core of the story. The query I wrote during the outlining stage is pretty close to the one I decided to use once I started querying agents, with just some slight rewording. The query also serves to keep me focused on my theme and making sure that everything within the story serves it in some way.

I like a road map, but I don’t need–nor want–turn by turn directions to my ending. There are some things I like to discover along the way, things I like to be surprised about, but I feel most comfortable when I have some intermediate goals to aim for, little inns along the road where I can rest and reassess the road ahead if necessary. I leave the scene by scene for the actual writing stage.

Setting off on the journey.

For me, the hardest part of starting is…well, actually starting to write. Every time I sit down to write the first sentence of a new project, the anxiety mounts and the desire to procrastinate sets in; the doubts creep in, telling me that I suck and I can’t possibly do this, there’s so much work ahead, but the only thing that will quiet this is to actually just start writing. Once I’ve got that first sentence down, no matter how terrible it is, the rest comes easily. Like the old saying goes, it’s like riding a bicycle and next thing I know, I’m 3k deep into the new novel and the juices are flowing and I’m riding the wave of joy that writing gives me.

So how do you get started? Are you a pantser, or maybe you outline that sucker until all you got to do is fill in a few details and you’ve got a first draft? Or maybe you have some alien technology that strips the words directly from your brain while you sleep and transcribes it for you into Word (in which case, why haven’t you patented this tech yet? You could make lots of money selling it to writers like me.). Share what works–and doesn’t work–for you in comments.

Want to win a digital ARC of my forthcoming novel The Bone Flower Throne? Click here for details. Contest ends September 3rd.

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