Reflections on Starting a New Book (writing one, that is!)

3 reflections have been on my mind this past week:

  1. It’s January.  January always reminds me of new starts.  There was an interview I read once about one of my favorite authors, Isabel Allende.  She starts a new book every January.  It’s a great way to start off the new year, she said, and I couldn’t agree more.
  2. Last week my book club discussed one of my books, and since they’re not writers, they were especially interested to know my process.  They asked me how on earth I had started to write that book, once I had a general idea of its concept.
  3. Also last week I reviewed the Lester Dent plot formula for a short story I was writing. Pulp writers were (and still are!) masters at story.  One of the points I especially love is:  “start with a different murder method for the villain to use.”  🙂

Why reflect about this stuff now?  Because this week I am jumping into a new project, a new mystery novel.  It’s not easy to suddenly change gears from the old book I spent so much time drafting to the huge unknown of the new book.  Can I get to know my new set of characters as well as I knew the comfortable, old set?  Can I even write another book again?

Heck, yes!  I have to believe I can.  If I follow my process, then I will.

Personally, I like to begin a new project with 2 main steps:

  • Research/Study, which includes lots of reading, yay!  One of my favorite tips, which has come from several different sources, is to start with the crime.  Once I know what the crime is, then what mistakes does the villain make?  Uncovering those mistakes will enable my sleuth to solve the mystery.
  • Think Time boils everything down into my notebook.  I’m a visual learner, so I clip articles and photos that resonate with my general idea, setting, and characters.  I like to collect these and my notes into a 3-ring binder.  I add a picture and tentative title to the cover of the binder, something that illustrates some aspect of my concept.

As my notebook grows, the novel starts coming to life.  I call it magic.  Bits and pieces fall together, and I can start developing characters and sketch in the plot.  This work suggests an opening, although probably not the opening I will end up keeping.  It’s just one way to start.

If I don’t set a time limit on my prep work, though, it will take over my life.  What’s most important is to get started.  You can’t finish if you keep putting off starting.  My prep work puts me in the right mental place.  Once I jump into the project, the magic keeps building.

I’d love to learn more ideas.  How do you start a new project?

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8 thoughts on “Reflections on Starting a New Book (writing one, that is!)”

  1. Sue, I’m a lot like you. I start with the murder. “What if?” and I do try to change up the murder method with each story. Often, I think of a resolution and work backward from there. And yes, it takes me two or three tries to get the opening right. I know what it’s like to do a book with a whole new set of characters. But you’re right – we have to believe that we can.

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  2. What a great glimpse into your writing process. Since I write a series, I have my main characters in place. What I need is the murder and even before knowing the murderer, I need to know the why of the murder. From there – i write a one or two line story log line, a theme, figure out who thought the dead guy needed killin’ and finally, a synopsis. From that point on, it’s fingers to the keyboard!

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  3. I heard Allende interviewed recently. Her husband is a mystery writer who thinks he’s a better writer than she is. I think that’s the difference between popular and literary fiction. She was funny. She’d gone to some workshop where she learned how to murder people (she’d decided to write a mystery) and was talking about all kinds of ways to do it. In the beginning of writing, I have a hard time counting research and plotting and scribbling as “real writing,” but I keep telling myself that it is!

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  4. Ooh, Mary, I love the working backwards idea!

    Right, Kait, the why is so important! Subplots can appear from the why, too.

    Interesting, Theresa. One thing I like to do during the research time is to write short stories in the backstory. That way, it feels like I’m doing “real writing” at the same time. And I get some more ideas I can use in the book.

    Great stuff!

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  5. Sue, I love this post! I’m a visual person too and I am inspired to try the kind of notebook you say. (I do a notebook too but with words…now I want to add pictures.) Good luck with your new book!

    Do you remember earlier this year, after Allende published her mystery and said something about how she is “not a fan of mysteries”? I was listening to the interview on NPR in the car and actually did a double take at the radio dial, thinking “did she really just say that?” I know some people were upset by that, feeling she’d dissed the genre, but I was more surprised she would take on a genre she didn’t like–books take so much work!

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  6. I love this post! I always enjoying hearing about process, especially since mine is still evolving. I’m quite visual, too–and I love, love, love that you do some of the creative part without technology. I think it’s so important to stimulate creativity in different ways. Thanks for sharing!

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  7. Thanks, Cynthia and Pamela! Yes, I do remember that Allende interview–it made me go right out and buy the book.

    And Pamela, technology is a great boon to research. If I weren’t such a Luddite, though, my office wouldn’t be overflowing with paper and notebooks!

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  8. Starting a new book is so exciting! The one I’m working on now started with a holiday: Halloween. I’ve never started a book knowing only the time of year, and it definitely represented a challenge. Good luck with the project!

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