filed under How To Write A Book.

First there was the euphoria of submitting my fourth book, One Night, to my publisher last week. This was swiftly followed by the realisation that I have to start a new book! Ahhhhh! If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that starting is one of my least favourite parts of the writing process. So, I thought it might be worth showing you exactly what I do when I sit down to start writing a new book.

1. The Scrappy Idea

I’ve written about this before, so I won’t dwell on it. Suffice to say, when I start writing a book, I have only the vaguest notion of what the book is about. In fact, that’s probably exaggerating. I have the vaguest idea of what a couple of parts of the book might be about, but that’s it.

In the one I’m about to start writing, for instance, I know who the key characters are. I know a little of their background. I know I have two different time frames and I know about the object that connects the two timeframes. That’s basically all I have. It’s a very shaky foundation on which to write a book, but that’s how every other book has started, so I know by now that the best thing to do is to plunge in.

How to Start Writing a Book: The Process I Use

2. The First Scene

For some reason, I always seem to have the first scene of my books quite well formed in my head. This is a bonus. It means that the first couple of days when I sit down to write, things flow relatively smoothly.

The thing with my writing process is—one scene follows another. If I can get one scene down, then that will usually give me an idea for the next scene. So, the next day I’ll sit down to write that. And the next day, the same thing will happen.

It is absolutely like that famous EL Doctorow quote:

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

E.L. Doctorow

How to Start Writing a Book: The Process I use

3. Asking Myself Questions

I also spend a bit of time sitting down with a notebook, jotting down questions like: “What is the link between these 2 characters?” And, “Why does she agree to do that?” Or, “What’s her motivation for helping him?”

I have no idea of the answers to those questions when I first jot them down. But, the process of jotting them down alerts my mind to the fact that they have to be answered. It’s so important to understand the motivations of your characters and this knowledge bleeds into every scene that you write.

Whenever I think of anything that’s close to answering any of my questions, I scribble it down and eventually, all the questions get answered.

4. The 15,000-20,000 Word Outline

Obviously, all of this means I’m not really a planner. But, over the last couple of books, I’ve tried to develop a rough outline. I definitely don’t do this when I first sit down to write because the task would utterly defeat me and then I wouldn’t have the confidence to write the book.

Instead, I write around 15,000-20,000 words, which is what I’m doing right now. I’m aiming to have this finished in 2 weeks’ time, when all the kids start school holidays and peaceful writing time becomes a fond memory. I have about 6,000 words now, so it’s going to be a busy 2 weeks!

Then I won’t really look at the book until the kids go back to school in February. But over that month and a half, the story will take shape in my head, based on the 15,000-20,000 words I’ve written. Then, when February rolls around, I’ll jot down a very loose outline based on all the ideas I’ve had over the summer holidays. I definitely won’t know everything. But I’ll know enough to keep going until that moment, about halfway through, where the story just flows.

So, that’s it! Simple right?! That’s all I have to do to start writing a new book. And I also have to trust, a lot, that because it’s all worked out for the last 4 books, it will all work out again for this one. Wish me luck! If you’re a writer, how does your starting out process work? And if you’re a reader, is this how you imagined a writer might tackle a new book?

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13 Responses to “How To Start Writing a New Book – My Process”

    • Natasha Lester

      I do wish sometimes that I did more outlining, although I just pulled out the rough outline I did for my 4th book and realised that so much of what I’d planned for the second half never happened but loads of other better stuff did! So I don’t know what that means – probably that planning for writing doesn’t really work that well for me!

      Reply
  1. Lora Shouse

    I usually start pretty much the same way, except I often have even less idea where I’m going. For the book I just had published, I didn’t do any outlining at all (although I’ve been working on this book for years, and the latest edition is basically a rewrite of what I did earlier. However, for the book I am currently working on, I did decide in the middle of it to do an outline, because I had had some good ideas, and I didn’t want to forget them before they got written.

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      Outlining is one of those things that I feel I should do more of, but then I see the evidence of writing a book that I love without doing any outlining and I wonder why I feel this way! Good luck with yours!

      Reply
  2. Jessica M. Chittester

    I used to be what people call a pantser. But, using the ‘pantsing’ method I never made it very far at all. I’d lose focus and interest in my current work and then find myself going back to an older project or starting a whole new one.
    I’m still working out which planning and outline method works for me. So far my best bet has been jotting down everything I know I want to happen in the story and then slap it all down onto a storyboard to make some sense of it. The good thing about that is that if need be, nothing is ever really set ‘in stone’ and I can still move things around while writing if it seems that it flows better in one spot instead of another.

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      I think you’re right. We all have to find out which method of plotting/planning/pantsing works best for us. Sometimes it takes a while, and sometimes things change, and what works for one author won’t work for another. It’s great that you’re trying a few different things to discover what your particular preferences are. Good luck with it!

      Reply
  3. Jen Freeman

    Over the years l’ve had quite a few ideas for novels, but allowed them fall by the wayside while my children were at school. Now, the coast is clear as my children are living independently 🙂 The story l am currently writing is the first in a trilogy. It’s a conspiracy/thriller plot, and is such a joy to write. Originally, l naively thought it was just one novel, and began with great gusto. It wasn’t long before l realised there would be two more books waiting to be written. I am in the process of placing small clues and necessary leads for books two and three, which has really slowed down the great momentum l originally had going. It has also involved the need for a lot more research to be garnered so that everything continues to make sense as l move forward. As soon as Christmas is over, l will be chaining myself to the desk and only coming up for air, food, drink, and more research. I promise!!

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      That’s wonderful Jen! Sounds like you are having a great time writing, and have some firm plans for the new year. I wish you all the best with it and hope you’re able to get the momentum going again in 2016 because I know for sure that the more you write, the easier it becomes.

      Reply
  4. Marshall E Gass

    Hello Natasha,

    I follow a similar method to the one you have just outlined. It works well enough

    There is another method I use now, of a much similar graphic method. Rather than words I draw out an outline of , maybe 20 chapters, using stick figures! I add no conversations or words ( this encourages imagination). This is really the bone structure of each chapter. Once I start fleshing it out, it works better, because I stay within the framework and don’t stray too far off the frame of each chapter. The focus gets intense but the imagination is lose.

    In between more frames are added and the story expands to introduce new plots and sub-plots. What I do with new frames is add the bad guys above the frames and the good guys below, interspersed in between. These new frames exert pressure on the existing framework. This works well in keeping the plot and characters in check.

    Then I plan words counts for each chapter. This will tell me how long the novel should be. 20 chapters @ 5000 words per frame= 100,000 words+ goodguys+ badguys= 130,000. Voila! Im probably around 34 chapters.

    Now I’m done with planning and then get started. The core ideas are done and changes don’t occur too often.

    Once the editing begins I know where there is surplus/deficit of ( character,plot.language,style,etc). My editor gets to read the draft -minus the stick figures- and tell me the story. She usually gets the drift of the storyline. Then I show her the planning frame and we get all excited about how close we were to the original plan.

    From here on the stick figures don’t rule me anymore.

    I’m done. The stick figures bring me the beers.

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      Hi Marshall and thanks for sharing your process. It sounds really interesting and great that it works so well for you. I’m not sure that I could ever plan out word counts for chapters in advance; the chapter length is, for me, dependent on so many things and can vary wildly from chapter to chapter in my books. It’s always great to see that every writer is different and that we all have different ways of getting through to the end of a book.

      Reply

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