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    Let’s Start At The Very Beginning, A Very Good Place To Start

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    So, I’m at the very beginning of starting a new novel. Like 152 words in. Whoo-ee. Only, say 74, 848 more words to go. No problem. I mean, I even have a title (Spinning) all picked out, so I’m on cruise control, right?

    I mean, how many of you authors out there have had somebody say to you when they find out you’re a novelist, “Yeah, I figure I’ve got a book in me, too.” I always have to fight the urge to say, sweetly of course, “Well, hell, just let it out.”

    Because, and I don’t think it’s just me (although maybe it is. If so, this post is a dud.), writing is work. Hard work. Frustrating work. But the coolest, best damn work ever. And, no, not everybody can do it. (But, then not everybody can do, say, trigonometry either. We all have our own special abilities.)

    So, here’s my plea. How do you start? (And I don’t mean this like the post I saw on a forum on a site I won’t name from somebody who asked: “Hey, I want to write an autobiography of me [Yeah. She really said that.] and I’m wondering like how to write chapters and if I should use pen or pencil.”)

    I’ve written 2+ complete books. And each one has been an adventure in itself. With the first one, All the Numbers, I knew the whole story arc. I knew the final scene from the start, so as I wrote, I was writing to get to that spot. It pulled me forward. I didn’t need no stinkin’ outline. With the second one, the one I just finished (I say, keeping my fingers crossed and making sacrifices to the publishing gods), Unexpected Grace, the ending was blurry (or completely missing) until I was about halfway through. Then, I jumped ahead, wrote the last 50 pages, and then went back to bridge the two parts. There was no way I could have written an outline.

    Now, with this next one (the one I’ve completed the first 152 words for, thank you very much), I’m toying around with being, dare I say it, more (deep breaths, now) organized (gasp!). I can hear anyone who’s ever seen my desk fall on the floor laughing right about now. But still. It occurs to me that since I want to weave several story lines and narrators throughout the book, it would help if I had a rough sketch. An outline of sorts. A plan.

    So, I’m wondering . . . how do you approach starting a new novel? Other than stocking up on coffee and dark chocolate?

    Um, and yeah, if you’re wondering, I’m still on a roll with killing folks. In my first book I killed a kid. In my second a whole family and a fiancé. This next one, a mom.

    ~Judy Larsen lives in St. Louis with her husband, their five kids, a sweet but stupid golden retriever, and a diabetic cat. Between loads of laundry and trips to the grocery store and veterinarian, she writes novels. Her first book, All the Numbers, was published by Ballantine in 2006. It traces a year in the life of a family that begins with the death of a child, but she likes to add that it’s ultimately redemptive. Her second novel (working title: Unexpected Grace) explores, through two generations, the choices that women are too often forced to make and the sometimes surprising ways women can change the course of their lives. Since it also delves into areas of domestic violence, her husband wants her to emphasize that it is completely fictional.

    9 Responses to “Let’s Start At The Very Beginning, A Very Good Place To Start”

    1. I used to be a very clean writer. One word after another, then ship it off. My latest process is making a mess. I write fast, write ahead. And then I start cleaning up the mess. As I clean up the mess, things change. And then I have to delete bits of the mess I’d made ahead.

      I hate messes. I do not like this process one bit, but … at the end, I have a stronger story.

      And I’m sure as heck going to complain and fuss about it. Like you said, it’s hard work!

      by spyscribbler on March 11th, 2008 at 12:14 am

    2. I hate outlining. I outlined the book I’m writing now, and a third of the way through the thing looks nothing like the outline.

      by J.D. Rhoades on March 11th, 2008 at 6:54 am

    3. All I can say is WOW, Judy. Your adventure through your first two books sounds EXACTLY like mine. Must be that St. Louis water. My first book (Shameless plug) A REASON FOR DYING due to be published soon, I knew the story beginning to end before I started. Of course it didn’t turn out exactly like I planned.

      The second, I’m about 25,000 words into it, is going someplace in the vicinity of and ending, but I’m not exactly sure where.

      This is where we part. I have an idea for book 3. A different genre (Suspense instead of thriller), a different cast of characters, a different concept. I’m getting excited about book 3 and I know I have a lot of work to do on book 2.

      By the way, good luck at your St. Louis Writers Guild lecture next Thursday.

      by Will Bereswill on March 11th, 2008 at 7:12 am

    4. Hi, Judy! Thanks for blogging today. It’s great to hear from you.

      I’m one of those people who freeze up at a blank sheet of paper–or blank word doc. I have to have an idea of where I’m going and how it’s going to end otherwise I can’t get past the first sentence, so I usually have a plan–notice I don’t call it an outline! A storyboard or collection of jotted notes is more like it. :)

      by Sara on March 11th, 2008 at 7:22 am

    5. Starting a novel, piece of cake. Getting through the dreaded chapter five where I run into the What-the-heck-am-I-doing stage, that’s my hangup. I’ve joined an on line critique group so I’m going to piece meal one of my novels through that and see if I can push through my block.

      Thursday night, huh? I’ll have to look that up and if we don’t get a snow storm (which is very likely) maybe you’ll see me.

      by Lynn on March 11th, 2008 at 7:35 am

    6. Spyscribbler, Messes do usually make for a stronger story, don’t they?

      J.D., yeah, I hate outlines too. I’m thinking of brainstorming a couple lists instead.

      Hey Will, it’ll be good to compare notes on the 20th.

      Sara, I like the idea of a storyboard. Anything that isn’t called an “outline.”

      Lynn, Oh, I hear you–that point (usually around 20,000 words for me), where I think, huh, you thought this was a story? I know I just have to plow through it. Hope to see you on the 20th!

      by judy larsen on March 11th, 2008 at 7:59 am

    7. I don’t usually have a problem starting. Ideas are easy. I get stuck around page 100, usually - 1/3 of the way in. (Close to where I am right now, unfortunately.) And I don’t outline much. I just start and see where I end up. I find if I plan too much ahead, it’s not as much fun writing the book, because I already know everything that’s going to happen. Guess writing the book is kind of like reading the book, to me. I like being surprised, too!

      by JennieB on March 11th, 2008 at 8:37 am

    8. I’m with JennieB. I don’t have much trouble starting a book; it’s the middle part where I get hung-up sometimes.

      When I’m ready to start a new book, I go to my ‘Writing Ideas’ file and pick the idea what excites me the most. From there, I just dive in and hope I don’t drown. ;o)

      by B.E. Sanderson on March 11th, 2008 at 8:59 am

    9. Thanks, Judy! {{{Hugs}}}

      It’s been different everytime. Outlines, brief bullet points a few chaps out, nothing more than a who/why… Best part about writing–it’s never the same.

      by Laura on March 11th, 2008 at 9:11 pm

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