Starting Over

There’s always a sense of euphoria when we finish a book – deservedly so. You know how many people start a book? You know how many actually finish one?

But then you have to start on the next one. There’s always a next one. And for me, at least, that’s the hardest part of a book – finding the beginning. I thought I’d pretty much figured out the beginning of my next one in my head, but when it came time to actually start writing it, I found out I was waaaay wrong. Wrong start, wrong character, wrong everything (except hero, who had the wrong name).

As I’ve mentioned somewhere lately, I suck at things like GMC, inciting incidents, turning points, etc. But I’m pretty good at closing my eyes and running scenes through my mind. A lot of the scenes never show up in the book, but they help me get a feel for the characters and the story. And I have to say, much as I enjoy brainstorming other people’s books, I don’t like brainstorming my own. It’s not that I don’t want input from other people; it’s just that that’s not the way my mind works.

That’s one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in this business: it’s how my mind works that matters to me. Remember in Beetlejuice when the newly-dead couple asks their counselor, “Is this what death is like?” and she says, “This is what it’s like for you. That is what it’s like for them.” So many writers make the mistake of thinking that if Method A works for them, then that’s the only way. But it’s not. It’s their way. The rest of us have to find our way.

I’ll figure out what’s wrong with the story. I’ve already got a clue: Ty and Nev are both so nice. How could they not fall in love and live happily ever after? They need some angst and fear and more problems than any normal couple should ever face. So I’m giving them issues and rethinking everything else. Give ’em no other way out, Jackie said at our retreat workshop, and that’s what I’m setting up with Nev. And hopefully, in a few months, I’ll have finished this book and will find myself in the same spot again, trying to figure out how the heck to start the next one.


7 thoughts on “Starting Over

    • And I can’t wait! I’m just hoping they’re having better weather in Charleston and Savannah than we’ve had here the past few weeks. At least the sun’s shining today!

  1. Marilyn,

    I think the one thing that you are leaving out is the true knowledge that you know when to stop… that’s the glory of the published writer. You have deadlines. You ship a book in. They send it back for edits. You read the galleys. Then it’s on the bookshelves. You know it’s done. At least it’s too late to change at some point.

    Us aspiring writers will write a story to death. We’ll submit, get rejected and continue to tinker or care about a story… long after we should put it out to pasture. I wish they had expiration dates like all the food in Kathlyn’s fridge.


    • Good point, Sandee. Because I do have deadlines, I’ve learned to tell pretty early on when a story isn’t working and needs to be set aside because I’ve got to find one that does work. Sometimes I leave them in the dust forever; sometimes, a year or three later, I’ll go back to them and whatever the problem was has been worked out in my subconscious and I can write them.

      But, yeah, working a story to death is a fairly common problem IF you have the time to spend on it. And putting a book out to pasture is a really hard lesson to learn. You’ve got so much time and effort and emotion invested in it, and it can feel like you’re just throwing it all away. That’s why I say writers should look at every story as a learning experience; if you never submit it, if you put five years into it and it doesn’t sell, you HAVEN’T wasted your time. You’ve been learning, practicing, training, improving. All this preliminary work before publishing is like medical or law school for us; it’s our advanced education. You generally can’t do the job without the training.

  2. It may be time more than anything. In the early days, I would hear how someone else plotted, fleshed out their characters, even the hours in the day they wrote or their goals for a day, and then I’d try that, too, to see if it worked for me. None of it ever did.

    Not to say that I haven’t changed some of my routines over the years. I used to write all night long; now I do it in the mornings mostly. I used to write like a fool until I finished a book, doing nothing else but eating and sleeping. Now I like to take the weekends off. But these are things that have come from inside me, not someone else.

    Until you find your own method (which may be an ever-changing thing), then it’s fine to try other people’s. Just as long as you’re not ignoring what works for you in favor of what works for someone else.

    As for seeing more of the story . . . I tend to see books kind of like movies in my head. It’s way easier to remember a 90-minute movie than a 250-+ page book!

  3. Oh,wow, Marilyn, thanks so much for that last bit about not having wasted time. That’s probably one of the best things I think I’ve read lately. That’s absolutely a message I needed to hear. You aren’t psychic are you? Now I just need to get to graduation day!

  4. Graduation Day. Hey, I’m all for that! Let’s hurry up and get those ‘lessons’ turned in, do the ‘final exams’ and ….. GRADUATE!

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