Monday, 14 May 2012

So what's it like to start a new book?

In some ways, it's a bit like starting a new relationship. You have those pre-first date jitters. Will this be the one? Or will it be a disaster of epic proportions from which your confidence will never recover? You worry, you get ridiculously excited at the prospect of the date/actually getting to sit down and begin to write the thing, and you obsess over how awesome it could be. Because it could be, couldn't it? Pretty please, Fate, let this be awesome.

Then finally, finally it happens. You begin! It's the first date with your characters. And it is wonderful. In parts. But it's also awful too because there are all those nerve-racking moments where you realise how little you know these people and you ask yourself how this is ever all going to work out.

I should pause here to explain that I'm not the kind of writer who plans much in advance. I only have the loosest idea of where I'm going when I start writing a book, often just the concept of the book and a tidbit of backstory for the main character or a line of dialogue from them. Nor am I awfully fond of first dates, much preferring the stage when you've relaxed and stopped being on best behaviour around each other.

I digress. So there you are in the throes of teeth-grinding first date-ness, trying to relax and not stress that you don't think it's going totally perfectly. I know some writers who adore the early stages of writing a new book and are totally caught up in the excitement of the new idea, and the opportunity to create something unexpected. Me, I'm a wuss. I just stress about how far from perfect what I'm writing is. My agent knows when I'm still in this stage: she calls and I tell her it's a train wreck. She pays no attention, fortunately.

But I plug away at it, and worry, and plug away a bit more. Much as when you have a date in those early stages, you go away and replay the whole thing over and over and analyse what happened until you've lost all sense of proportion - oh, come on, I know you've done that too sometimes! I struggle over every word I write in the first chapters. I go back and I rewrite until...until...oh, that magic moment when: Yes! There you are, main character. I've started to know you. That's you, right there. Ha, got you now!

I breathe again. This might just be okay. Maybe it is all going to work out.

There's a couple more blips along the way before we're properly together, when the characters do something unexpected on me. Where I lose their voices. But gradually, in the same way you slide into that easier stage of the relationship, we start to fit. You know, that point where you know how the object of your affections takes their coffee, how they always watch Merlin on Saturday night (okay, that might be my guilty pleasure and not my other half's, who tends to watch along with me wearing a slightly bemused expression) and how they won't be satisfied with dinner unless their plate contains something that once dwelled behind a five bar gate.

But you get me - you know these guys now. You are still getting to know them better, of course, and you will be until the penultimate line of the book. It's all still new and exciting but somehow more comfortable than before.

You'll have panics during the course of the book, where you think it's not going well. That your relationship has got tired and predictable and you've failed to notice - because if that's true, your reader will notice. But those choking, almost block-inducing feelings of the opening pages are gone.


And now you can enjoy it.

Until the next time ;-)


  1. Yeah. The pre-date jitters. Is this going to last? Where is this going? Will we both be satisfied?

    No wonder we love writing so much. Roller-coaster.

  2. Good Blog,
    That's much how I write. I get bored if I know what's going to happen. (Much as I believe my readers would.) I always think of it as painting the floor of a room without knowing where the door is. Somehow, I have to make sure that there's an answer that fits all the facts I've written and finish the floor.

  3. So starting a new book is like going on a first date and starting a relationship.
    What part of the writing process does it become the comfortable wearing your worn and comfy George pajamas to bed in front of him stage?

    Looking forward to the next book btw! Loved Skin Deep! Ryan's mum was a great character!


  4. Coffee-cup: the editing is comfy pyjamas time, lol. First draft done and you know all there is to know. And I love it, hehe

  5. I tend to have a plan or basic structure, but it changes massively during the writing. Some parts get longer or shorter, or characters do more or less in the story. Great post!

  6. I think you have no reason for jitters(in my not-knowledgeable at all opinion) :) I can't imagine the creator of Ryan/Ryans mum/Jenna/every other character making a bad character! I really can't wait for your next book, I loved Skin Deep. Good Luck!

  7. Aww, thanks, Beth. I hope you like the next one too. Lol Skin Deep was in train wreck stage for a good while - it taught me to ignore myself through that phase and plough on regardless.

  8. I've always loved everything you've written . . . be brave :)