Monday, May 14, 2012

What's Your New Beginning Process?

Yesterday I attended a literacy fundraiser brunch put on by The Seattle Seven writers, and had the chance to hear several well-published authors answer questions about their writing process. Guess what. They were all over the place. A lot depended on what part of the book they were in, but a lot also depended on their individual proclivities.

This was particularly interesting to me, because I'm beginning a new book. This will be the fifth book I've begun, and hopefully the third that I will finish. (One of the two that I didn't finish took six years out of my life and I thought it might kill me, but in spite of the distress that came with that, what the song says is true: whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.) My two finished books are mystery/suspense, a genre I love. This new one, honest to God, I just don't know. All I know is I'm going to write it.

This not-knowing leaves me with one thing to hang on to (besides just letting the ideas flow): process. Establishing a habit to make sure something happens on the page, not just in my head.

So this morning, what I want to ask you is, what is your writing process when you are starting a new novel? Is it highly structured and thought out ahead of time? Is it the opposite?

To start us off, here's mine:

  • each morning I meditate for 15-30 minutes: an active form of meditation in which I ask questions and get answers (often unexpected, out of the blue answers)—for my story. So far, I have had shocking glimpses into my protagonist's character and her backstory; insights into secondary and tertiary characters who I didn't even have on my radar screen, let alone in my sights; and a few plot developments that add grounding and twists and give me some direction as to how this story might develop. 
  • I scramble into the kitchen where I have my pad and pen on the island and furiously write these ideas down longhand, and then have a much-needed cup of coffee—which I hold in my left hand because I have writer's cramp in my right one. 
  • then back to the living room and play the piano (badly) for 20-30 minutes. Something about that gives me unmatchable pleasure and completes the process for that morning 
What is the start-up of a new book like for you? Do you follow the same process each time, or no?

~ Linda


  1. Ideas for new stories usually come at the most inopportune times for me. Like driving. Or in Church. Or when I'm having a conversation with a friend. lol

    I'm a creature of habit, so I think I do follow the same pattern each time. My pattern is continually honing and tightening, though, the longer I write.

  2. Ha! I know what you mean, SA. So hard to grab your notebook and pen at those times. People get suspicious. Interesting about the honing and tightening over time. Makes sense.

  3. Great question! And one I'm asking myself right now as I prepare to draft a new novel. For the most part, my process follows the same pattern. The story idea starts with a question--what if. . .Then I think about the who and the where. Then I visualize the opening scene. Lots of thinking and a bit of note taking. Next I interview my MC, Oprah style. Finally, I take a few deep breaths, sit down, and write. And write. And write.

  4. Wow, that is a well thought-out process, Angelina. I've never been able to start with 'what if?", though I've tried. I always seem to start with a character and the 'what if' comes out of that. LOVE the idea of interviewing the MC like that. :)

  5. I love these process posts. Since I'm still a student, my process is probably more frenetic, because I have to be done with a manuscript by a certain deadline and have to work around my office job as well. When the idea first comes to me for a novel, I jot the first impressions I get: dialogue, characteristics of a character--whatever comes to mind. I don't edit myself. I usually start with a character, rather than a plot. I ask myself, "Who is this?" I keep jotting down notes as they come during the day. Then I consider where this character might take me. Needless to say, this is an evolving process. I tend to live with a character for a few days until I have a basic idea at least of the first chapter or so. I always ask myself "Why would this character do this?" and "What's compelling about this character at this point in his or her life?"

    1. I love those character questions, Lin. They are developmental and clear enough to give you direction, open enough not to shut down anything that might come up in further development. Nice. I, too, focus on character first. Everything else flows from that, even the surprises that act on rather than come from character.

  6. I love your process. I'm going to have to try that. I usually talk it out with a friend, jot down ideas, and then do a ton of research to help add to it. Then I start an outline.

    1. Wow, I'm impressed you talk it out with a friend at the beginning, Heather. I usually feel I need a gestation period of keeping it to myself or it could *poof* disappear! Good for you!!

  7. I approach the writing thing more like someone who doesn't know what the H they are doing (^;

    Meditation usually is done while drinking coffee with my husband in front of the morning news--which goes in one ear and out the other (and my husband has learned to accept that).

    If I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea I grab pen and paper and write. Needless to say I may wake in the morning tired from such activities, but that is to be expected. Screw the day job!

    The characters live inside my head (I got plenty of room, you see), and when they start repeating things, I've gotta write it down or it's like living with someone living above you in an appartment and wont shut up.

    My chapters usually start out with an idea. If I'm lucky enough to get something crystal clear, it evolves on the page and I work on it in a couple of drafts until I feel it is fleshed out enough. I love the notebook process, and keep a physical one, if the book sounds like something I want to do, and one on my "desk top" in the computer.

    I have something like 4-5 novels/novellas started, and if I ever get them done in my life-time, I will feel lucky.

    Nice post Linda. Good luck on the new novel!

    1. I am jealous of your ability to dream/wake/write down dreams, Lorelei. I lost that somewhere along the way and miss it! With your focus on chapters, I'm wondering if you could take a shot at short stories that could be expanded into a book of stories with shared characters. Those are so cool. (And can be expanded into novel-length projects if any of them really grab you that way.) Love your meditation practice, btw :) Thanks for the good wishes!

    2. Actually, Linda, I'm working on just such a thing over at my shared blog with Carole Gill "Bloody Good Vampires". I think it might work out to my advantage to do this and possibly publish said shorties to get people salvating for something longer (^;

      There's always the chance that that magic thing might return, Linda. Here's hoping it does in time (^;

    3. That is excellent, Lorelei! Fingers crossed for you.

  8. Linda, I love this. Okay... my process.
    I think about what I want to write about. I go to the gym and listen to music on the elliptical and think about different angles.

    Then I write a statement for each chapter... the point of the story.

    Then I go back to the gym and visualize how the story plays out. And add, move, shift chapters.

    Then I sit down, open chapter one and write. When a thought pops into my mind about a chapter... anywhere in the book... write that chapter.

    I attempt to write in series, from my outline. But this particular book... I'm on chapter 7 and 4 of which weren't on my outline.

    It's a process. I love your meditation. Perhaps oxygen to my brain is my meditation, and music. Oh... shift my music per the mood of my chapter too.

    Thanks for a great post!

    1. So, Karlene, you visualize the whole book and make a note chapter by chapter before you begin the narrative--a true outliner. Awesome. And yes, exercise at the gym is your meditation. It's a great way to do it. I used to walk 45 minutes on the treadmill each morning. About 20 minutes into it, the scrambled ideas I was thinking about would coalesce and I'd spend the last 25 minutes writing a complete scene in my head. Loved that. Maybe I'll try that again! :)