May 23, 2022
So I noticed I haven’t talked much about my writing, at least not outside my Thing I’ve Googled post. And I was trying to come up with something to say on the blog about it. And then it hit me – I’ve started a new project. I can talk about that! But what about it?
There are so many parts to writing a book, and looking back at my completed novel, it looks like it was fun (which it was) and like it came easy to me (I wrote it in part during university, so it took me years to write. I genuinely cannot remember the start of the process so who know how easy it actually was). But now I’m at the start of the process again, and I’m coming to the realisation that many authors have talked about before.
Even if you’ve written a book, it doesn’t mean you know how to write this book.
I dove into the worldbuilding aspect of my current work in progress (WIP) in November. That was tricky, but then something came to me and I spent days working on the two countries this book takes place in. I built more upon my characters, leaving some things to discover as I go. So that was great, and inspiring, and it led me to writing 5000 words in one sitting for flashback content.
I felt powerful in the way only forming a story can.
And then I had to take a break from it. My other book – a contemporary fantasy – needed editing some more, and another editor was helping me with query documents. So my epic fantasy took a back seat. It was sitting there until the end of March, when I sent out the first queries for my contemporary (which had me in a whole ball of emotions!). But I finally got to it. And I started writing. And then I scrapped what I’d written. And then I started a second opening. And I scrapped it. I’m on the sixth iteration of the opening of this thing.
Which brings me to the concept that unlocked this post for me: writing a new book, especially the beginning of one, is hard. I don’t know that the start to my contemporary was this difficult (though, again, I can’t remember. I do know that the first scene was easy, but maybe not beyond that), but I know this one is proving difficult.
At first, I didn’t know where to start it. I kept starting the book too early for the actual plot. Even I was bored by it. So I kept getting closer to the true starting point, and then common threads of what I wanted my characters to do started appearing, so it was a matter of tweaking those points until they made sense.
It was also a matter of finding my MC’s voice. I’ve got part of it, but I’m still struggling. I know her personality, but getting inside her head is another ordeal. Both MCs for my contemporary are similar to me in many ways, so getting into their heads was a bit easier. This MC is a mix of Not-Like-Me and What-I-Wish-I-Was-Like-in-Specific-Situations. So getting her voice to the point where it feels fundamentally like her is slow-going. I tried third person, which helped me find her faster, but I’ve since switched back to first. I prefer writing from inside someone’s head. She still needs some tweaking – I think the way I think is still a bit too prominently on display – but I can find her much more easily. That said, I’m still considering switching back to third, at least for a little bit.
Still, I actually have the semblance of the start of this book! But I’m also a pantster more than a planner, which means I don’t entirely know where this is going, so I’m still in Act 1. I know the Big Thing that needs to happen at the end of this one, and the Big Thing that needs to happen in the second (right now I’m planning this as a duology), but 95% of the rest is up in the air. I do have random moments and scenes I want to get to, but how, who knows.
I tried the planning approach, I really did. I had these little squares drawn out with events in each one (which I learned from this great video), and it helped me a little. I did get big concepts I want to hit on. But most of it fell down the drain almost immediately. Will I try that method again? Likely. Just maybe with a book that’s already a little more fleshed out in my head (I’ve got several. One is currently trying to occupy my brain space. Trying not to let it for now).
So. Pantsing. It can be hard, and it can lead to some writer’s block that’s hard to get out of. (Or even some writer’s hesitation as I’m going to call it, which I’m in at the time of writing this. I know I have to move forward and I have an idea of what I want to try next, but the difficulty of writing the very beginning is still looming over me. Hopefully that’s gone by the end of the week this is posted, which I’m using to focus on writing.) What I find actually helps me with writer’s block – a technique I’ve used for both books – is writing journal entries for my MC and any other character I think will be helpful. In my contemporary, I needed to expand on one sentence, make one throwaway line into genuine scenes, plural. I didn’t know how to do that. I knew the gist of what those scenes was, but not the details. So, I had both MCs “tell” me by writing daily journals. These could be messy. They could be illogical. I just needed the details, and that got me the details.
For my WIP, this trick not only helped me figure out a few scenes to get the book underway, it also helped me find part of my MCs voice. I wrote what she did for a few days, in her POV, and took what I liked from it. It showed me how flirty she could be, what she likes to distract herself with, and what her biggest worry is. I also did it for her love interest, though right now I’m still debating if I’ll write his POV. In any case, it helped me figure out what he needs, because he’s in a position of power and requires things of my MC. I didn’t know exactly what those things were until I had “him” write them for me.
(How many of you fiction writers find it helpful to consider your characters actual people? It helps me get into their heads and see what they need more effectively when I do that.)
All that to say, there are tricks to get out of a rut, and just because you’re stuck now, doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck forever. It’s true that no two books are alike, and that you’ll approach different projects as needed. The beginning is hard – not just the actual beginning of the book, but even the beginning of each writing session. When you’re in a groove, it’s nice, fun, and sometimes even easy. But when you’re out of that groove, you have to make your way back into it. It’s worth it.
That little pep talk is as much for me as it is for you, and I’ll be keeping it in mind as I keep moving along with this book. I love the characters, and I’ve wanted to tell their story (despite not knowing much about it) for years. I’m going to make sure I see it through, even if it’s hard, requires breaks, and takes a long time. Even if I need to off-set it with another WIP, should it come to that.
Hopefully you’ll get to read this book for yourselves one day, and I’m excited to read the stories you all come up with, too.
Happy writing 🙂