Starting a New Manuscript: Encouragement and Tips

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

It’s that time of year again! The children are going back to school and summer is just about over. I know many of you are going to be starting in on new writing projects since you’ll have more time during the day to focus while the kids are in class. 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?

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.

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?

Because it’s Friday and summer is winding down, I think it’s time we had a little fun, tooimages. I’ll be doing a random drawing to select one winner from those of you who comment here before Monday at 10 a.m. (PDT). The winner will receive a hot-of-the-press copy of Nancy Moser’s The Journey of Josephine Cain. I’ll announce the winner here in the comments on Monday and I’ll email the winner as well.


Share how you get excited about starting a new manuscript and enter a drawing! Via lit agent @RachelLKent. Click to tweet.

How do other authors get motivated to write a new book? Find out here. Via @RachelLKent Click to Tweet.

88 Responses

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  1. I start by praying for the project and asking God for direction on how to go about the project. Then sit back and allow my mind to revolve on the objective and what I want to achieve with the project. As my mind revolves inspiration begins to flow. At this point writing begins.

  2. To me nothing is more inspiring than a blank page. I can write anything; the possibilities are limitless!

    • Rachel Kent says:

      It seems like it’s either inspiring or terrifying for authors to see that blank document. 🙂 I’m glad you like it!

  3. Heidi Chiavaroli says:

    I go for a run. Something about the steady rhythm of a long jog allows my brain to relax and think of possible good first sentences or paragraphs. :)Then after a shower, I’m ready to write!

  4. My routine is mostly a matter of time. I need to write early in the day before I am thinking about the day-to-day things that need to be done (errands, house, etc.) — I focus best and have the most motivation when my brain is fresh.

  5. I’ve finished Book One, aside from some edits that popped up unexpectedly. Things like having to re-write a scene in which the hero whistles. Not in the last year and a half did I see ANYTHING about traditional Navajos NOT whistling. Well, ka-boom, there ya go. They don’t.
    Book Two is well underway and chugging along. But the premises…premi?…of Book Three have tossed and turned in my head for months. I had the chance to speak with a very smart and extremely funny Navajo elder named Theodore Charles who mentioned something about the warriors’ duties to their tribe.
    Holy fry bread, Batman!!
    There it was! The story question for Book Three!!!

    So, who *started* the outline of Book Three at 11pm??

    Waves ya’at’eeh.

    • Rachel Kent says:

      Yay! So for you it’s a matter of finding the story question. Do you work best at night or was that just how the timing worked out this time?

      • It was all about the timing, the person with whom I was talking and a rarely understood ( to an Anglo) part of a Navajo warrior’s duty. It was one of those perfect moments that appears out of thin air.
        I work best alone, and that usually ends up being night time, during the summer, and during the day during the school year.

  6. Rachel, I wish I had a pat answer. I’ve had five–soon to be six–books published, and each time I started one I swore I’d never try to write again. I start with an idea, a concept, a “what if this happened?” thought. But I end up having to rewrite the first three chapters several times, getting to know the characters (and often being surprised by what I learn), before I have a fairly clear idea of how to proceed.
    If there’s a formula, I want to know it. And thanks for posing the question.

    • Rachel Kent says:

      Yes, that’s why I asked! I’m very curious because we have writers, like you, who have done this many times. I’m always amazed. Writing a book is a huge undertaking and I’m trying to figure out how you all do it! 🙂

  7. Normally by the time I start writing a book (or a short story) the opening has been in my head for a long time. I’ve been working through it up to the inciting incident and maybe beyond. I’ve thought through what to reveal about the characters, what to hold back till later. Some specific dialog will also have come to mind. The first several scenes will flow fairly easily. I’ll also be sure of the ending at this point, though I won’t write it until I get there.

    The hard part comes when I’m past those scenes that I’ve already lived with. That can be a struggle.

    • Rachel Kent says:

      How interesting! It’s like you’ve written a lot of it before you even sit down to write. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  8. Norma Horton says:

    My stories hunt me down. Keep me awake at night. Form in my subconscious. Then the characters start relating in my mind. Sometimes even to the point of dialogue. I can’t take it any more!

    I start dumping into the computer, pulling from only-God-knows-where, and restring everything months later. The process is messy. Creates carnage. But there’s no stopping it once it starts.

    And now someone needs to find Mary, coax her from under her desk, offer her a cup of tea, and look for a good counselor because one of her writers is totally NUTS! NLBH

  9. Cheryl Dale says:

    I always plan a date with Starbucks. I grab my favorite drink, find a table in the sun and start outlining my ideas. It’s a great “get started” point for a new manuscript.

  10. Great topic, Rachel. I’m excited to see what works for others.

    My stories usually bounce around in my mind for a while, so when I sit down to the blank screen for Chapter One I already have a pile of handwritten notes as well as at least one Word document full of notes and ideas. I also mull over the first sentence before I start so I can avoid that completely blank screen. My family has become accustomed to a gasp and then a dash to the computer or a piece of paper as I tell them, “I just need to make a fast note.” Nothing makes it easy, but at least I have something with which to start.

  11. Lori says:

    I usually like to get a cup of tea, occasionally coffee. Usually I think things out in my head before I sit down and type so I have a visual picture in my head as to what I think I am going to want.

    On another note I just saw online that today, August 9th, is “National Book Lovers Day!”

    Isn’t this a great day to read or write a book!

  12. Jeanne T says:

    Rachel, how fun to read what different people do to begin a new project. 🙂 I find that I take a lot of time beforehand getting to know my characters, figuring out the big picture things that will happen in the story. I bathe the process in prayer too. When I have a good feel for these aspects of the story, I dive in, and write like crazy. It’s not pretty, but as the story goes from my mind onto the page I give myself permission to just write, knowing I’m going to fix it later.

    And coffee? That is definitely in the mix of preparing for a new project, working the new project, completing the new project. I’m pretty sure it flows in my veins.

  13. I love getting excited about writing a new book. I’ll be diving into my next one after ACFW. I think it helped to sit down with my craft buddies and brainstorm the story together. When others are excited about your story, it helps fuel your own excitement.

  14. Rachel, I love fleshing out new ideas in my head, on notecards, and then on my computer.

    I always start my day with prayer and a scripture, then coffee (preferably a strong blend, no sugar.) My office is still in re-do mode, but I’m loving my new desk and the beachy feel. The goal is to have everything organized before conference, but… *sigh*

    Since I seem to forever have life’s oddities happen to me, they usually are a plentiful source of inspiration. Take for instance, the time I fainted. In college. During speech class. During MY speech. (Oh… the A was worth it though! LOL)

    Happy Friday all!

  15. Sarah Sundin says:

    Starting a new novel is always a bit strange for me. I outline extensively, fill out very long character charts, and know my characters inside and out long before I start. However, writing that first scene always makes it “real.” At first I feel almost like an imposter, writing from inside my character’s head. As if I didn’t have a right to be there and had to earn it. It’s almost as if the character and I tread lightly around each other, while she decides if I’m worthy of her trust and will allow me to write in her voice.

    Okay, that sounded really weird. And I’ve never put those thoughts to word or screen before – but that’s exactly how it feels!!!

    And now I have an article idea!! Woo hoo!!

    • Great topic! I MUST know my characters well before I can write their stories. And Sarah, I completely understand what you’re saying. I think you put it very well.

      As far as a quiet idyllic environment, no such thing at my house–I’m homeschooling three kids. I try to have undisturbed early mornings, but when that doesn’t work out, my iPod comes in very handy!

  16. Ummm, and *now* I’ll answer the question…

    Earl Grey tea.
    By the IV.
    Total quiet in the house.
    A bit of Ethyl Merman in my head, singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business”.
    It gives me that “no one can do this but YOU!” feeling.

    And because it’s a raining Friday afternoon and I adore Youtube, here’s a tip for writing a “falling in love scene”, listen to “I Got Lost in His arms” from Annie Get your Gun.

  17. Hmm…starting a new manuscript.

    It begins with travel for me! 🙂 Either I try to visit the novel’s setting or do or see something that would be an inspiration for what I’m writing.

    I also “travel” through research before I start a historical fiction MS. I read memoirs from the time period and look at pictures and listen to the era’s music. I try to get a real feel for the time period. It’s a fun journey and I’m quite ready to start writing those first pages!

    I also keep inspiration up throughout the writing by watching period films and traveling some too.

    I’m actually in the middle of writing another WWII novel and I’m going to visit the National WWII Museum in New Orleans this weekend. I can’t wait! I will definitely be inspired.

    Have a great weekend everyone!

    • Jeanne T says:

      I love that you can travel to your novel’s locale to get a feel for your story, Morgan! Have you ever visited the WWII Memorial in DC? It moved me deeply.

      • Hi Jeanne!

        Yes, I have been very blessed to travel! 🙂 I’ve sadly never been to D.C. though. I would love to go! Thanks for the info. I will definitely see it when I finally get to go! Have a great weekend!

  18. We each have our own routines, don’t we? I like to have the seed of the idea rolling around in my head for a few weeks or months, until I’m nearly itching to get to the keyboard. Here’s the odd part for me–when I sit down to write, I close my eyes and listen to MercyMe’s Word of God Speak. There’s something about those opening lines that helps me focus: “I’m finding myself at a loss for words, but the funny thing is–it’s okay. The last thing I need is to be heard, but to hear what You would say.” It’s my way of turning the story over to God. Perhaps it releases me from responsibility. 😉

    After I pound out a chapter or two, that’s when I do most of my research and outlining. I need to have a feel for the mood and the characters before I do the rest.

  19. lisa says:

    I love reading all of these. I feel like my people come to me and reside there until I write their story. Usually an image sparks the story in the beginning. I love that feeling of the characters really taking the reigns, not me.

  20. Sarah Thomas says:

    I usually have the BIG idea, a beginning, a vague idea of where I’ll end and some landmarks along the way. I CAN’T do too much plotting or planning lest I feel like I’ve already told the story and lose interest. Of course, there is much weeding to be done at the end of the first draft!

    Once I have the idea, I can’t wait to get started. All I need is time and space. A giant mug of tea and my dog at my feet don’t hurt.

  21. Larry says:

    I go through the pile of books I got from the library, realize there is nothing I want to read, and decide to write a book I’d like to read. 😉

  22. Laura Jackson says:

    I’m new to this, but I let it stew in my mind for a few days.
    I jot down a little bit about the characters and know where I want them to be at the beginning and at the end.
    Then, I just write.

  23. So fun to see what everyone does! I too get a lot of ideas while running (came home from a 7 mile run and had 6 chapter titles – almost 1 per mile!). I also have my favorite coffee shop and my favorite place to sit – something about that routine makes me super productive. I usually have notes scratched out in notebooks or in a Word document so that by the time I sit down to write, I already have those first words started. And, yes, I’m one of those who will be starting a new project once the kids go back to school, but in Michigan that’s not for another 3 weeks.

  24. I had several books in mind for many years and had been keeping notes in folders and tables of contents. So as soon as I finished one, I usually had enough material to start the next one, and could hardly wait to get started.

  25. Linda Strawn says:

    After praying for direction and clearing the clutter off of my desk, brainstorming comes next. Sometimes just writing for the sake of writing will get those creative juices flowing and before you know it, characters are jumping off the page and a story line develops.

  26. Sue Harrison says:

    I LOVE beginning a new project. The first chapter usually flows. For me, the tough time comes in the 2nd chapter or maybe the 3rd when the reality of what lies ahead hits. But that’s when I remind myself that a book isn’t written in a day or a week or sometimes not even a year. It’s a long walk, and the journey is part of the joy!

  27. Stephanie McCarthy says:

    I keep “idea journals” throughout the year where I jot down little sentences or concepts that appeal to me. It’s a welcome relief from my WIP and when I’m ready to start something new I have my pick of things. I’ve decided to place my new book at Lent and just found notes from Ash Wednesday, joy!

  28. Sarah Grimm says:

    First i pray a lot. Then, usually while I’m exercising, I get an idea for something. I try to figure out the three act structure and meet my characters. Once I’ve interviewed my characters extensively, I can write about them. Then I set up my laptop, grab a bottle of water, turn on some music, cuddle close to my dogs, and start typing.
    After chapter one is done, I do a rough outline for the rest of the book’s scenes. And sometimes–okay all the time–I deviate from said outline, but typically find my way back to one point or another. 😉

  29. Sherry Kyle says:

    I love to start new projects! To begin, I usually think of an object that propels the story forward, like the old love letter in my first novel, and the ring in the second. Then I ask myself a TON of “what if” questions. My mind whirls with ideas when I’m cleaning the house (vacuuming particularly) or taking a shower. Funny, huh? I always wonder if I start the story in the right place, but the best part is that a first draft can always (and usually does) get changed. I’d love do read Nancy Moser’s new book. 🙂

  30. Heather says:

    What great timing for this post! Just an hour ago, I was making notes on a nice clean page of a new notebook, trying to decide which of many ideas to work on next. It was encouraging to be reminded that other writers are affected by their children’s school schedules too. I have struggled with frustration and guilt this summer, wishing I had more time to write but also wanting to enjoy my children because they are growing up so quickly. I hopped online for a few minutes while my hubby was loading the kids up to go fishing. Yippee! Fun for them and a whole afternoon for me to make up my mind about my next projects and to start working on them. He’s even taking them out for dinner in town, so I don’t have to use up any of my time cooking tonight. I love the beginning of new projects, when the ideas are flying fast and furious and then start to sift out into a logical order on an outline. For me, which part of the project is most challenging depends on whether I am writing non-fiction or fiction. I’ve been working on mostly non-fiction lately and find the rough draft (after the proposal is completed) the most stressful and frustrating. When I write fiction (mostly historical), I get distracted and overwhelmed by research at the beginning but love working on the rough draft because it feels like it unfolds to me like a dream. Thank you for posts like this that help us feel like a community even though we spend so much time alone while writing.

  31. What a motivating post for my lazy, rainy Friday. As much as I enjoy having the girls around, I’m glad school is coming. I need to get back to my regular schedule.

    I don’t usually have trouble getting into a new project because by the time I am ready to write, I have a good idea of how to start and where to go. The ending might end up different than planned, but before I open up a new document I’ve performed most of the research and interviewed my characters.

    Hope you all have a great weekend.

  32. Love this post! I enjoy opening a new document in Scrivener, creating a new folder on my computer, and most recently, making a new Pinterest board so I can pin images, “character auditions,” and anything that helps paint the picture. For me, the best way to get the story going is to write whatever scene comes to my mind–no matter where in manuscript it will actually end up. Such a fun process!

  33. There have been times I keep to a ritual, very similar to yours it sounds like. Clearing out a space to write, getting set up with a cup of tea. But I’ll admit there have been some times now that my little one is getting older that I pretty much have to grab any chance I can get, even if it is something as big as beginning a brand new manuscript. I’ve been preparing a rough outline for a book idea I’ve been mulling around for a while, and would love to be able to set aside some time to “officially” begin it. We’ll see!

  34. Mandi Barber says:

    My first step is to put on headphones with some awesome writing music. (For me that means movie scores. My recent favorites have been How to Train Your Dragon and The Hobbit.) It helps me shut out distractions and get into the right mood. Namely, “This is going to be epic!” Movies use music to set the tone, so why can’t writers?

    Then I start writing. Sometimes I have an opening scene firmly in mind, which is great. I can dive right into the story. More often, I don’t have a clue how to kick off the story. When that happens, I start with the first scene I do have inspiration for. That scene might even turn out to be the perfect starting point.

  35. Jan says:

    Opening lines have a way of popping into my head at the unlikeliest times, so I usually go with one of them. Usually the rest of the story writes itself. I also swear a lot.

  36. Andrea Cox says:

    Hi Rachel,

    Great question! When I get a new idea for a project, I pray and think about it for several days or even a few weeks before I begin writing it. (I usually have another one I’m working on anyway.) I make any notes I come up with during that time, as well as do some initial research. When I feel like I know the point of the story well enough and feel properly energized to it, I’ll work up a brief little blurb about it to get me going, then begin writing the actual story. I’m experimenting with outlines, too, so I’ll probably start using one of those from the get-go pretty soon.

    Andrea Cox
    [email protected]

  37. Prayer, yes! Then I make notes on whatever storyline, scenes, and character ideas pop into my head over time, maybe weeks, maybe months. Then I start—page one. The first line may be horrible and change a hundred times, but I start telling the story. It also helps me to have a working title. (Sometimes titles in search of a story pop into my head, so I note them for future possibilities.) I use Scrivener for my writing program. I love it! Prior to Scrivener, the computer mechanics alone had me stymied on how to organize and proceed with a large work. If you don’t have a writing program you love, check it out.

  38. A setting or place is what I begin with. Recently I began my WIP after reading an article in a magazine about a place and its history. Many modes of research took place after that, and then the characters introduced themselves. Extensive characters sketches followed, with one character being funnier than I expected, and another who has quite a morbid past.
    I organize short scene summaries in my Scrivener program.
    Speaking possible lines of dialogue into the wind while I bike is a great way to continue.
    Next up? The research trip. 🙂

  39. Leah E. Good says:

    I’m one of those writers who finds starting a story exhilaration. A new manuscript for me usually begins when I can’t stop thinking about one of the ideas peculating in my brain. I sit down and write a chapter or two in a burst of enthusiasm, then get stuck and go back to begin outlining the rest of the story.

    It’s impressive what a wide variety of start up methods everyone uses!

  40. I write historicals, so I’ve done a bunch of research before I settle down to write. I let the history and setting dictate some of the main events of the plot. Then I start brainstorming what kind of characters would be in that place and time, and daydream about what they would do. By the time I’m at the laptop, I’m excited to see where things will go next.

  41. Loretta says:

    I write in my head, trying on different approaches. Once I feel good about the ‘mind story’ I start typing it up. No, it doesn’t come out ready to go, but I don’t sit and stare at a blank screen either!

  42. I don’t honestly struggle with beginnings. Middles can be difficult and climaxes/endings are SO STINKING HARD for me, but beginnings are my favorite. Part of that’s because the interest and passion and creativity is all new and I just love jumping into new things, while sometimes I have less enthusiasm after the novelty wears off. But for writing specifically, another reason beginnings are easy for me is because I’m a plotter. I set out my plot, characters, setting, research, Pinterest inspiration boards, what articles will help me specifically with this book, etc. before I get to work. Some people think I put too much effort into the pre-writing stuff – and sometimes I think they’re right – but a lot of the times, that’s just what works for me and keeps me going.

  43. Sharyn Kopf says:

    So far, all my stories have started with an idea, rather than a blank page. But instead of jumping on the computer right away, I prefer to write my initial thoughts on paper. I always try to keep a notebook near me and as the scenes/characters/plot points come to me, regardless of where any of it fits in the story, I write them down.

    I have notebooks full of notes – quite a bit of which never makes it into the manuscript. But, eventually, I jot down a scene that hits just right, and I know that’s the beginning and I’m ready to go.

    My nonfiction book, however, was almost all handwritten before I started putting it into a Word document.

  44. Amanda says:

    I find that I really have to pray for God to give me the inspiration and ideas for new books. I start with that idea and think about it and daydream about that idea every chance I get. Driving, washing dishes, cleaning the house, even while my son is doing his quiet work during school. (I homeschool.) That way, I have at least a very rough outline of what I want to happen or think should happen. That usually helps me when starting a new project.

  45. Teresa Morgan says:

    My starting point is usually a character who wants something, usually desperately. There are internal and external goals, one of which usually involves a broken relationship with a family member. Discovering the and how’s helps develop my lead character and her background. I have big trouble knowing where to begin until I have this much down. When I don’t, I usually end up beginning the story in the wrong place and have to do more revision. I find the old chant: goal, motivation and conflict helps keep me headed in the right direction. Well, most of the time.

  46. I buy a notebook. Then I sit back and think about how funny it was that it took me longer to pick out the notebook than it did to create the plot line. The afore mentioned notebook remains with me at all times, mostly so I won’t annoy my husband by writing on my hands. It also makes it look like I am taking notes in church…scripture is a great springboard for theme. My notes are usually an unconventional chaotic combination of thoughts, dialogue, character charts, and chapter outlines. When I can’t stand the excitement anymore (and the homeschooled kiddos are on their own for the day) I flip open the laptop and let it flow!

  47. . . . my dog by my side. Need I say more?

  48. Linda Jewell says:

    I’ve found it’s usually easier and faster for me to dump my initial ideas using pen and paper. I like the size and feel of writing in a school composition book. Depending on the writing project, I might include characters’ names or snippets of dialogue, steps in a process for a nonfiction how-to article, possible chapter topics, a prayer for the project, a list of people to interview or information I need to research, possible markets, quotes or Scripture that apply, and/or a working title. Sometimes I’ll brainstorm using left-brain lists, sometimes I’ll use right-brain bubbles that connect ideas, and sometimes I’ll use both. Then I’ll do some topic research, read writers guidelines, or just open a new document and start typing.

    • Rachel Kent says:

      Linda, you are the drawing winner! Please email me your mailing address ([email protected]) and I’ll send you a copy of Nancy Moser’s new novel. 🙂 I can’t see your email address to email you directly for some reason.

  49. For fiction I usually think about the story for a few days before making some handwritten notes. For non-fiction I’ll do research and interviews and take notes on those. Then for both kinds of writing I color code my notes with highlighters. That provides a basic outline. If I plan and outline a lot I get bored, but I need a basic framework that allows me to be flexible within it.

  50. Mohana says:

    I am generally a few ideas behind in terms of writing; I’m finishing up two manuscript revisions this August, for example, and it will likely be November before I can start another project. By the time I’ve sat down to begin it, I’ve been thinking it over for several months, if not years. Excitement and anticipation bring me to the table.

  51. Pete Bauer says:

    I’m always praying for help writing! LOL. However, I usually start a new manuscript when I simply can’t fight the growing momentum inside to get the idea down on paper. As a man, I can only guess, theoretically, of course, that it’s similar to giving birth. You have an idea, it grows and matures until it has to come out. 🙂 I fight it, because I know just how consuming it will be and how much work and frustration lie ahead, but that’s also like having children (father of two).

    Like parenthood, at the end of the day, the sacrifice is well worth it.

  52. Rachel Kent says:

    The book winner is LINDA JEWELL!

    Congratulations, Linda. Please email me ([email protected] your mailing address and I’ll send Nancy’s book to you right away.

    Thanks to everyone for your comments and advice!

  53. Здравствуйте! А у меня идеи рождаются из опыта моей практики. Я 10 лет работала практикующим психолого и лет 5 эниологом. Много знаний накоплено в моей голове, что в последствии рождает картину. Я сажусь и пишу краткий план. А дальше идет наполнение.)