I’m in the process of starting a new project, which is very exciting. Only I realized the other day that it’s the first time in five years since I’m starting something new. And I’m a little psyched out.
I started writing the Jacob Wonderbar series in 2008. Ever since then I’ve written three Jacob Wonderbar novels and the guide to writing a novel, but for all of those subsequent projects I already had a voice established. For the Wonderbar sequels I already had the world and characters, and for the guide I already had established my “voice” from my blog.
Now I’m confronting the blinking cursor and that feeling of not knowing exactly where to start. This is something I talked about in the guide to writing a novel, but I think I need some extra words of wisdom.
How do you get started on a project? Where do you begin and how do you overcome your inertia?
Art: The wanderer above the sea of fog by Caspar David Friedrich
Lost Carlson Rhoads says
I tried not to start this sentence with an I, but I couldn't help it. I am so new to the writing forum, as a life long ghost creative, starting something new, is well, way to familiar. I ask myself is it the ADD? A painter, a sculptor, it's always been a blank page, now, it really is a blank page.
While, still completing this current project, I am in the off hours visualizing, (fantasizing?) and have an outline for the next. Verily, I feel as if I am having an affair, guilty and shamed of myself for such deceitful behavior.
Oh man, I don't know. All my projects started as wild animals that couldn't wait to get out of their cages (i.e. my brain) so I just HAD to write them.
But sometimes, just for fun, I'll write down all the elements I want to have in my next project (dragons? a betrayal? a female antagonist? a specific piece of dialogue?) and then pick three out of a hat. Or sometimes I'll just try to include them all!
(Though that last one usually doesn't end in anything productive. Mashing historical romance with biological warfare and sneaker drones was unsuccessful.)
Oh, and I like Lost Carlson Rhodes comment above about feeling guilty like you're having an affair. I think maybe that's how a new project SHOULD feel like.
I always have a commitment to my other projects, but then there's that one rogue one that keeps tempting me to start it. And the rogue project is usually the one that has enough substance to turn out finished.
Nathan Fischer says
I just ran into an article about how to use a Mind Map to get started on a novel. It was interesting, not something I'd ever considered. You might like it: https://thefutureofink.com/mindmap-to-start-your-book/
I'm surprised how many people have trouble with this. I generally have my next project planned before I finish my current one.
"Planning" is making notes, writing specific scenes, or rough outlines. This is my "down time" from the rigors of my current project. I always have a note book handy with tabs for hopping about between project ideas. Creating something new is the fun part. For me, it's the current project that tends to get tedious.
Write about something that's very important to you. Something you care about that has affected you personally.
You won't be able to stop writing 🙂
Nathan Perkins says
A writer can't start every project in the same place. But it works best for me to start wherever I am with whatever I have. If it's a good idea that I have, then I write like crazy trying to get the whole thing on paper before it's lost. If I have a good start, I work on perfecting that to set the tone for the rest. If I have an agent dogging me to put something new out there. I go shopping (at the library or writer's conferences). Start where you're at and a sense of success will power the next step. Don't skip the next step, whatever that is.
I always have to have a character. If I don't, it's much harder for me to make any progress, even if the setting's great or I have this wonderful plot idea. For me it all centers around characters. Sometimes I'll have a spare waiting in the wings (or as a bit player in an earlier piece) and then she steps out ready to go when a plot or setting idea wanders by.
Maya Prasad says
Good question! 2013 was full of false-starts for me, but here are some things that helped me:
1. Hold off on sharing your ideas.
2. Write the first draft FAST.
3. Be brave.
4. Push yourself, but take breaks as life demands.
You've inspired to me to blog about this…so for more thoughts on the above, check out my post!
Sheri Fredricks says
I find that a bottle of Sapphire and a liter of tonic helps me.
Peter Dudley says
I hear you, bro. I just wrote "the end" on the third book of my trilogy and am about to publish another project. Which leaves me (when I'm done revising/editing the trilogy finale) with the dreaded Blank Slate.
So many ideas. So much fear of commitment. What if I get seduced by the wrong idea? What if I have a good idea but botch it? What if…
Anyway, I would +1 Elizabeth and JDuncan. When an idea tickles me, I longhand journal it. Characters, plot, conflict, motivations, backstory, theme, symbolism… all of it. I do this over and over until it either becomes a story that I can feel confident writing, or it begins to bore me and I know it'll never fully succeed (or I'll hate working on it). Then I throw it out and try a different idea.
If I can't latch on to any idea for a while, I'll force myself to write poetry and light verse to keep mentally fit.
Do you ever find yourself starting out on an idea, then realizing it sounds disturbingly like a query you once read? I imagine that's a hazard of being a former literary agent. But maybe not.
inklings Anon says
Like I tell my writing partners, you have to power through it, Breaux. You do it and it will come, blinking cursor be cursed. There comes that part where you get bored of your writing, same thing, power through it and you will be rewarded (fortune cookie theology). There are also the writers who are perfectionists and won't start until everything is perfect. I have two pieces of advice for these people. #1 (not hash tag 1) Control is an illusion. #2 Power through it. Once I realized the power of powering through, I pushed out 4 manuscripts in 4 years. Two of the manuscripts I wrote while in grad school and two I wrote while working full time. Now I'm powering through being a supervisor at a call center (60+ hours a week) while working on edits for book 2 for a book release in the Summer. I am also starting a publishing house on top of that and gathering a bunch of first time writers together who should be ready to publishing the next year or two. The rule of the day is power through.
P.S. Where do you get your art again?
Joe Moody says
The best way to start a new project is not to talk about it, but to start it. Similar to a novel, the more someone talks about writing a novel the less they will actually write it.
monniiee smith says
One thing I find helpful without being overwhelming is creating a playlist of my favorite music and creat a scene around how that music makes me feel. "What scene would this sound be the soundtrack to?"
Adrienne Moore says
In the dreaming stages of a new project, or the stuck stages of a less new project, I've discovered that long walks are a great way to get my mind moving. I start with a question or an idea or a problem, and as long as I keep walking, my imagination stays on track. If I sit still and stare into space when I'm in a figuring-things-out stage, my ideas tend to drift off and disperse, but something about walking helps me stay focused.
Elizabeth Marro says
What a great question and what a treasure trove of answers just when I needed them. I am at the start of my next project too and it is a wild, challenging time. This time I'm not starting to write anything more than notes or fragments until I've finished a few weeks of research which includes working in a vet's office, listening to how children talk at age 1, 8, and 13 and figuring out just who my lead characters are as much as I can before so I don't feel ambush half way through the novel. I'm hoping that if I do all this, my "shitty first draft" will come much more quickly than with my last novel.