New Beginnings: Writing a new book.

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

It’s that time of year again! August! The children are going back to school and summer vacation is just about over. This is the first year I will have a child in school full-time! I am totally going to cry on her first day. How is she so big already?!

I know many of you are going to be starting in on new writing projects as summer comes to a close. It’s exciting, but facing a new manuscript can also be overwhelming.

Let’s spend a little time today sharing tips with each other on how to get started on a new project. What gets you excited to jump in? How do you get the first pages written when you are sitting in front of a blank document?

Are you a plotter (working from a detailed synopsis) or a pantster (writing without a pre-written plan)?

Whenever I’m facing a new project–editing a proposal or submitting a project to editors, for example–I like to get a fresh cup of coffee and a snack and clear my desk off first. These small pre-work preparations help me to concentrate on the project for longer and I’m able to get more done. I think the time I spend getting the coffee and clearing my desk allows for my brain to start in on the project even before I’m working on it. It’s like I’m geared up because I’ve been thinking about it for a little while. My high school Calculus teacher always encouraged us to read through a test before starting in on it for this same reason. Our minds are able to start figuring things out before we even begin to really work on the task at hand.

I’d love to hear what you do to overcome the difficulty of beginning a book. And if you don’t struggle with starting a new project, why do you think that is? What words of encouragement do you have to share with those who do struggle?

38 Responses

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  1. The first sentence of my next chapter came to me a few weeks back during my morning devotions (thank you, Lord!). Such things have a way of slipping out of my brain, so I wrote it down in my journal. At the time, I was deep into editing two earlier chapters.
    * Thus work on my new chapter will begin with me paging back through my journal (likely your plan, dear God, from the get-go).
    * I am blessed!

  2. Becky McCoy says:

    I’m usually working from a seriously detailed outline, but I’m getting the feeling that my current project wants me to just start writing and see what happens.

  3. I’m 180 degrees out from Becky. No detailed outline. At the moment, I have five manuscripts as placeholders, but only two of those that have grabbed my attention at the moment, and you’re right Rachel, they are each a blank canvas at the moment. I’m trying to figure out which of the two meets the “felt need” that would grab an agent’s attention, and then subsequently a publisher’s attention.
    My starting line for something like this is to get a mental picture of where I want to go, meaning, what issue am I addressing, or to what question am I proposing an answer. Once I know that, I can begin an informal, mental structure for the work, breaking it into logical sections. Once that’s done, the research begins in earnest. If I have my sections, then I can pull in evidentiary branches for that section and flesh out each branch.
    That all sounds more organized than it is, but the truth is, I tend to write by the seat of my pants. It’s mostly in my head, and as ideas come to me, I’ll go to that section of the manuscript and write a one-liner as a placeholder that needs to be developed later on.

  4. I remember when our oldest struggled to climb the steps onto the school bus, she was SO excited!!! I was a blathering idiot. “But she’s just a baby!!!”
    I cried all the way home (a whole block) and my friend sort of patted my hand and said “It’ll get better”. Now I’m dealing with “the baby” starting high school next month. I hope I can haul myself out of bed to take at least one photo.
    The hardest thing for me isn’t starting the book, it’s learning to love the new characters.
    But, when I do start a new book, I buy a nice new notebook for keeping things straight.
    Anyone else love “new book” smell?
    It’s WAY cheaper than “new car”.

    • Jerusha Agen says:

      I love the smell of new books, Jennifer! And I can relate to you about having a hard time with learning to love the new characters. I often have that struggle, too, and it can take longer than I’d like to really care about their story.

    • I so agree … you fall in love with your characters in one book … moving on to a new book with new characters is an adjustment. Character favoritism, something like that. Loving them is a process … but it happens. 🙂

    • Rachel Kent says:

      Much cheaper than the new car! 🙂

    • I’m with you – Every new book deserves a new notebook – it evokes those school days of OLD (won’t say just how old) and as archaic as it sounds – I grab my well-sharpened no. 2’s – with click eraser – and dig out my CHARACTERIZATION LIST and then then then…manage to start with either the hero or heroine’s LIES THEY BELIEVE – from that “problem” I get a picture of backstory for the character – what he/she wants most but can’t quite seem to hope for – AND AND AND – I’m off~
      JUST got those steps going yesterday after four days of – I NEED TO WRITE – I WANT TO WRITE – WHAT SHOULD I WRITE – prayed about it – had others praying about it – and I got my IDEA (thank You, Jesus!) Between batches of pickle relish making, and an edit I’m doing for a writer-friend…I AM WRITING A NEW NOVEL! YAY!

  5. David Todd says:

    I’m somewhat of an in-the-head plotter and at-the-keyboard pantser. Often I have a lot of details about the plot in my mind, but I never write them out and expand them into a detailed outline. I suppose I’m closer to a pantser than a plotter.
    .
    I’m just about to start a new book. Two are running through my mind, and I’m not sure yet which one I’ll pick. Researching for one, and reviewing an early, partial draft of the other. But I’m distracted, because I have four publishing tasks I feel I should get done first. Hoping to do one today, three on the weekend, and next week be able to concentrate on one or the other of the new projects.

  6. Oh, Rachel. I bet she will love school. I volunteered once a week at our little local public school and watching my kids grow and learn and helping their friends read, it was such a great experience. Gave me a lot of respect for their teachers, too. Holy Cow! Those men and women work hard.
    Oooh, preparing to write a new book is delicious. I love the excitement of it and the freedom of writing and knowing that it won’t be perfect yet and that is perfectly fine. I’ll fix it later! I keep word documents for each story idea and when I’m ready to start on a new one, I read what I have already, take some walks and do a bit of brainstorming. Then I pull out my blank outline document which is something I’ve compiled for myself using many different writing books that I’ve titled “How To Write A Book In Less Than 10 Years” I copy “How To Write A Book In Less Than 10 Years” into a new word document and give it the title of my new story + the word “outline” and then I jump into it. I get the 6 plot points from Larry Brooks “STory Engineering” and the 15 plot points from Blake Snyder’s “Save The Cat” I add the multi-point climax outline from Jim Butcher’s blog and some character questions that I have no idea where I picked them up. All of this is colored by Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method and I glance through Sally Apokedak’s writing courses on my Udemy account. Then I put all of these into a chapter by chapter outline and then write some bit of plot under the heading of each chapter. This process is all very fun for me and revs me up for the actual writing of the rough draft. I then sign up for ACFW Novel Track and write the rough draft in one of two months. Then I set it aside and maybe write another one. Then I have two rough drafts that I can go back and forth editing one and then editing the other as I get bored and overwhelmed with the one. Right now I am editing an old ms. in preparation for pitching it at conference, but I have 2 new rough drafts just waiting when I’m done with that. I can’t wait to bounce between them, making them good.

    • Emma Fox says:

      Kristen, Larry Brooks spoke at a writers’ conference I recently attended here in Alabama, and he was great! I’m looking forward to applying some of his insights to my next novel draft. I’ve never heard of the Snowflake Method. Can you share more?

    • Rachel Kent says:

      I love your excitement about starting a new project!!
      And yes, I think she will love school too. Being home with mom all the time is boring for her. She needs to get her brain working and have some fun with friends.

  7. Jill Kemerer says:

    School full time already?? It can’t be! I’m crying a little for you, too!

    I love new projects. When I’m preparing to write the opening line of a new book, I always do basic formatting first. Then I say a little prayer, get my coffee and get at it!

  8. Wow, first child entering school full-time…Rachel, remember that God will be holding her hand. Yours, too.
    * I usually start with a couple of characters and an opening scene, and take it from there. As an example, here’s how one of my WIPs, “Antediluvian”, got started.
    * A sheriff serving a handful of communities in the mountains of western Washington state receives a call from a frightened farmer’s wife, who says that there were lights shining into her bedroom window, and her husband went out to investigate and has not come back.
    – The sheriff, thinking it’s probably graduating high-school kids playing pranks on a particularly stiff and starchy farming couple, sends a deputy.
    – When the deputy makes a frantic and garbled call, the sheriff tools up and decides to go himself. On the access road leading to the farm he sees a set of headlights following him, but before he can pay them much mind his vehicle is grabbed and lifted, as if by a set of giant hands, and thrown against a tree, pinning him into his seat.
    – He hears huge pounding footsteps approaching him (in entirely the wrong cadence for a biped or quadruped!), and a blinding light is shone in his face, but there is a sudden series of hollow booms, and the ‘thing’ turns tail with a frustrated bellow, and the troubling footsteps recede.
    – It turns out that our sherif was rescued by a winsome young woman who had been monitoring the radio, and who had followed him to the farm. A pastor from a small midwestern town, she is armed only with a Bible…well, that and a car-trunk full of rocket-propelled grenades. And she relates a chilling warning of things that have been, and the things to come, for the Days of Noah have come (Matt. 24:37-39) and the Nephilim have returned. And they are NOT in a good mood.
    * Yes, it’s based on a somewhat interpretive reading of the verses in Matthew, and most people do see the ‘Days of Noah’ bit as an indication of the surprise people will feel at the beginning of the End. But I think that being confronted by a group of seriously histrionic Nephilim with anger-management issues would be pretty surprising as well, don’t you?

  9. Sarah Sundin says:

    I used to love the first day of school! The new crayons, new classroom, new teacher, and the excitement of learning new things!

    I do feel that same anticipation when I start a new novel. As an outliner, I have a long preparation time, doing my baseline research, getting to know my characters, and fleshing out my plot. And – school nerd that I am – I start a new binder. I put a picture collage of story inspiration on the cover, and fill the color tabs (teacher’s pet!) with calendars, maps, character charts, and plot charts. Plus, numbered tabs for the chapters that will one day make the binder fat. Seeing that pretty binder makes the story feel real to me – like a real book. Then I can’t WAIT to dive in and actually tell the story!

  10. Carol Ashby says:

    I don’t struggle, and here’s a rough version of the approach I take. Hope some part of it might help someone else struggle less.
    *Starting a new novel is as “simple” as creating a new Word document to jot down the germ of the idea that came while I was working on my main WIP. I’m writing a series, so the next plot usually pops into my brain as a logical new direction for one or more of the minor characters in the WIP. Twice, the idea for a new one just formed, and I’m not sure of the origin. One of those isn’t set in the same time period (1925 Colorado is a long way from AD 114 Rome).
    *I don’t usually write out the first scene first. It’s one of the crisis points and sometimes the climax that takes full form first. In my head, I form the overall plot outline. At the beginning of the document, I make notes about names, characteristics, relationships between characters, geography, and other location details for easy reference to keep things consistent. I add to this as I write.
    *Next, I’ll write a rough omniscient narrator summary of the first and last scenes, a few of the main crisis points, and the biggest climax scene. Then I turn some or all of those into first draft 3rd-person limited deep POV. Next, I start at the beginning with the serious first draft, filling in the plot line with informal scene outlines or short omniscient narrator versions between the major point as I go, but I also hop around within the plot framework as what I’m writing sets what a future scene will need to be.
    *So I’m a plotter in that I know the story arc from the get-go, and I do write much of it down from the beginning. But I don’t use any of the formulaic approaches, and it’s an organic process that allows for major changes if that seems like the better thing to do as I write.
    * This approach lends itself to having several partially written WIPs, so if there’s a slow day for the one I’m currently working on for the next release, there is another waiting for me to pick up where the creative juices flow easily. Sometimes I work on a different one just for the treat of focusing on a different set of characters that day. Right now, I have 3 finished manuscripts with one entering the final edit-and-polish stage for November release, 2 with full story arc defined and about half in semi-polished first draft, and 2 germs of ideas that haven’t fully formed. I’m officially “retired,” so I’m blessed with being able to work full time on these. This method lends itself to completing a polished novel every six months, so far, and to never getting hung up with writer’s block because I don’t know what to do with a particular WIP.

  11. Tara Johnson says:

    I’m a bit odd, I think, but before I do anything else, I find my characters’ core wounds…their deepest place of hurt because that feeds their fears, provides their motivations (whether they realize it or not) and gives me everything I need to throw conflict in their path.

    • Jerusha Agen says:

      This is very similar to what I do, too, Tara. I write character-motivated plots, so I also, before writing anything, start with identifying the deepest problem with my character(s) that needs to be fixed or addressed in the story. Their main motivation naturally comes out of that biggest issue, and the plot then comes out of that, too.

    • That’s what I do too, Tara. 🙂

  12. I definitely have strong pantster characteristics. With a notepad and pencil on my night stand, I am able to jot down those profound thoughts that often interrupt my sleep. I have actually scribbled a complete first draft using one of my pillows as a writing table. As far as staring at the blank computer screen–I give myself 60 minutes and if the screen is still blank, I resort to chocolate, walk around a bit, step outside and search for inspiration in the clouds. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. The main goal I set is to NEVER, NEVER give up. God gave us this talent and we must use it wisely and for His glory. Inspiration WILL come if we are persistent. Sadly, some of our writings will never make it into book form, but we can rest in the satisfaction of knowing we did our best.

    We will all be shedding a few dinosaur-sized tears with you, Rachel as you send your sweet baby girl off to school. I’m confident she will have a blast!

    • Debbie Wagenbach says:

      I should have mentioned I write picture books, so a complete 1st draft in all of its disrepair can actually be written in 2-3 hours. 🙂

    • Rachel Kent says:

      Chocolate always helps! 🙂 Thanks for sharing and for crying with me during this big milestone! Wah!!!

  13. Wow, Rachel. It’s hard to believe your oldest is already school age!!! it can be hard that first day. I actually had a harder time letting my second go. My first one bounded out of the car that first day without a backward glance. My youngest . . . well he’d been my hangout pal for so long, and then he was gone into the doors of the school.
    *I’m a plotter. And, like Tara, I figure out my characters’ dark moments and what stems from those before I do anything else. I am a definite plotter. Although, with the book I’ve just started, I’m beginning to write without knowing everything. It promises to keep me looking to God for His plan for the next step of the story, as well as reaching out to writer friends when I need a brainstorming idea.
    *When I know my characters’ dark moments from their pasts, how it affects them and what the theme of the story is, I can determine their goals and how to make it hard for them achieve them. 😉

    • Rachel Kent says:

      Interesting that you and Tara have such similar approaches! Thanks for sharing yours with us.

      And I can’t believe she’s old enough for school either! It goes fast.

  14. Zan Marie says:

    Journaling works when I’m hunting the theme of a book. Another trick that works for me is to write “gangplanks” to get into a scene. Even as the words hit the page, I know they’re destined for the scrap pile. But if they get me started, who cares?