Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Process of Something New

Tuesday, 20 January 2015
I'm a novelist. I don't really have the precision to write short stories really well and I generally don't enjoy writing them as much as I enjoy working on full-length novels. I love to see the word count stack up into the thousands as my story twists, turns and unfolds. So when I start on something new, I'm either in for the long haul or I'm wasting my time with a project that's not going anywhere. Although plot bunnies are everywhere when you open your mind to them, it can be difficult to choose which stories are worth committing to and which should be discarded. But, I have system which sometimes works for me. It might not work for you - everyone has their own, unique writing process - but it's worth sharing anyway because starting to write a novel is one of the most tricky parts of the process.

It all begins with an idea. This can come in any form - a character, a concept or a "what if..." moment. I usually jot down my immediate inspiration in a notebook and then let the idea sit in my head for a few days (or weeks) to gather more inspiration. If it stays in my head, then it's a sign that it might be an idea worth pursuing.

Next, I write a short "pitch" or description, quite similar to the blurb you find on the back of a book. It gives me a general sense of direction about the plot and the characters, leaving enough room for me to play around and change things. I rarely plan a story before I write it, because I prefer to see where the plot and characters take themselves, but having a pitch helps me keep the story on track and within a genre. 

Once I have my pitch sorted out, I start with the first chapter. This first chapter doesn't often stay around very long before I delete it, but it gets me started writing and sets me up to write a first chapter that I can actually use. Somewhere around this point, I make a Pinterest board for the story I'm writing to keep my inspiration, setting and character ideas all in one place. Whenever I'm short on inspiration and I don't know what to write, I have a quick look at my Pinterest board and that gives me a boost to keep on writing.

The downside of not planning a story in advance is that you never know whether you're going to have an actual plot or not. More often than not, this is how my story ideas get discarded. I finish a chapter or two, then realise that the story doesn't exactly have anywhere to go and I end up scrapping the idea before it reaches 10 000 words. I use 10K as a benchmark for my stories - if I can write the first 10K with ease, then it's a story I should keep working on because I'm fully invested in it by then. If not, then the chances are great that it's a story that I can't commit to.

At least, this is the system that I tell myself I'm going to follow, but, in reality, my starting process isn't quite the same every time. While it generally starts off like this, it softens into something more organic and chaotic. The processes for each novel are different, because each novel is different. In fact, the process that my last completed first draft looked more like this:

1) Idea popped into my head from a dream

2) I wrote the opening chapter, then three more that followed a series-like pattern
3) A greater plot appeared out of nowhere
4) I wrote a pitch and sailed past 10K
5) I made a Pinterest board for it and scribbled out some key plot-points on a page
6) I started posting my story on Wattpad

To this day, that novel (called The Raven Conspiracy) is my most successful project on Wattpad. I wrote its sequel, taking none of the above into account (except for the 10K point - that remained my benchmark). I'm currently between novels, but I'm following my process. It has sparked off a new novel idea, but, I haven't been writing it long enough to reach the 10K mark. Maybe I'll stick with it and the process will change, maybe it won't. I won't really know if I've carved my way into a new novel until I've reached 10 000 words, or gotten distracted by something else.

Starting a new novel is not easy and it's not something that can follow a fixed process. The most important thing to do is just to start, without worrying too much if it's good enough to pursue or not. Write, and if it works you'll just keep writing. If it doesn't work, move on to the next idea.


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