I got a new book idea a few weeks ago. My husband asked me to explain it to him the other night and it came out like, “Well I had this dream about this topic, and then I read a blog post about it, and then I thought, that could be a book…” And I realized that it didn’t sound like much a story idea at all, just a bunch of random thoughts. I tend to be the unorganized, pantsing type when it comes to writing books, so for someone to ask me about my plans when I’ve literally written nothing is to ask to hear a lot of mumbo-jumbo that makes no sense.
I have seen a pattern, though, in how I tend to go about starting a new book, taking it from a random, nonsensical idea to a book I’m actually writing. This is pretty how much how it goes:
1. Something sparks an idea. I love this quote that explains perfectly how this happens:
“Writers and artists know that ethereal moment, when just one, fleeting something—a chill, an echo, the click of a lamp, a question—ignites the flame of an entire work that blazes suddenly into consciousness.” –Nadine C. Keels
I’ve never been able to force myself to come up with an idea, but it does help if I have in the back of my mind that I’m looking for ideas at all times. Then, I get into this mode where at any moment all kinds of random things have the potential to spark something in my head and turn into a story idea.
2. I write down the gist of my idea right in the moment so I don’t forget it. Ideas come to me in weird, fleeting moments that sometimes feel surreal enough that they can be totally gone before I know it. I’ve gotten a few story ideas from dreams and I’m a dream-forgetter, so I have to get those on paper fast. Like I said earlier, at this point my ideas don’t make much sense, but even the act of writing often makes something stick in my mind so I don’t lose it in case it ends up being a good idea.
3. I think about it for days, weeks, months. It just percolates. With the idea sitting in my head, everything starts to add to it. I start getting inspiration from everywhere; suddenly everything relates to the idea in my head. I might read up on it a little. I start to form characters and a storyline.
4. I write down any scenes that come to me. I may start at what I think will be the beginning, but a lot of times it helps me if I don’t stress myself with the idea of writing a perfect first chapter right now. I just write whatever scenes are in my head, and start to get to know the characters.
5. I throw stuff out. I start over several times usually, because once I start seeing things on the page it I realize what doesn’t work. It usually takes me a few tries to feel like I have a story I can work with. Like I said, I’m a pantser so I don’t really outline. I’ve tried, but it hurts me. But, I do feel like I need to have some sort of idea of what the story is going to be out, some kind of solid starting place before I can really plough on through the whole thing.
I’m currently in step three, and hoping to get through it faster than I have in the past. I’m still kind of steeped in editing the novel I just finished, but I think I’ll get to step four soon. In some ways, this is one of the most fun parts of writing a novel—the part where it’s all perfect and exciting in your head. I’m looking forward to it.