How to write a new novel when you can't remember where to begin

My writing desk. New year, new notebook.

For the last two years or so, I’ve been writing, rewriting, editing and polishing my latest manuscript. My baby is finally ready to pitch—exciting times—and I’ve tentatively started to send it out. Now that the manuscript is out of my hands, though, I need to decide on the next project.

According to common wisdom, I should write a new novel while waiting for news. It makes a lot of sense. After all, the process of querying agents and publishers can be glacial, and sitting around waiting for the inevitable rejection emails soul-destroying. But what if you’ve spent years invested in a rich story world that you love and are terrified at the prospect of having to build a world from scratch all over again? How do you pluck a whole novel out of your subconscious? The self-doubt has started to creep in. Were the last two manuscripts flukes? Will I ever be able to do it again?

Olympic-standard procrastination is currently under way. I’ve dealt with all the outstanding emails and back to school jobs. Paid the bills, done the filing. I’ve even tidied the Tupperware drawer. I can no longer avoid the shiny new idea buzzing around in my brain. Because I do have a premise for my next novel, another thriller. Technically, it’s more of a thought bubble than a premise. A soundbite. And that’s the problem. The idea needs a lot of development.

In order to make the task less daunting, I’ve put together a six-step plan to develop this vague idea into something more tangible over the next few months.

  • Research: By calling it research, I can justify all the reading I’ve done for pleasure over the break, but now is the time to bring more focus to my reading material, and explore specific ideas and themes.
  • Get organised: Justification for buying a new notebook, as if I ever need justification for fancy stationary. I will also set up a new file on Scrivener and save the links to relevant research in one place.
  • Develop character and setting ideas: One by one, I will need to invent currently non-existent characters, and decide where to set this story. There are great character questionnaires online with prompts that allow you to get to know your characters. I only need enough detail to begin the story. I trust my characters to flesh themselves out during the writing and editing process.
  • Work on a loose plot: I’m not a planner, but I’ve learnt the hard way how vital structure is when writing a thriller. And how much easier it is if the plot is at least partially thought out before beginning, even if it will certainly change along the way.
  • Transfer scene descriptions and character profiles to Scrivener: I love the way Scrivener allows you to write scenes and easily shift them around. And the ability to see the whole structure in outline is great. I will definitely be using this tool again.
  • Bum in seat, words on the page: By the time I’ve completed steps one to five, I’ll be dying to get on with it. I hope.

Does writing this blog post count as procrastination? Oh well, I’d better go and do some of that important reading instead. I mean research.

What steps do you take to prepare for a new writing project?

7 thoughts on “How to write a new novel when you can't remember where to begin

  1. I don’t really plan anything, but I do write a lot of little notes when I’ve got a new idea brewing, so when I start a new project, I usually go through those notes and that inspires me to get started. Great post, Lisa! Good luck with your new WIP 😊.

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  2. Tidying the Tupperware cupboard. Yes! Made me smile. Great procrastination, Lisa. I have a Tupperware cupboard and the only time it ever got really tidied was just prior to each of my four children being born – it was my only nesting thing.
    On a more serious note, great blog. And I hear you about creating a whole new world when you’ve been living and breathing the other one for so long.

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