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.
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.”
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?