Where to Start // taking on a new project

6:00 AM

Writing is easily overwhelming. Not only are the ideas massive, taking time and effort to build, searching to make sure it's not too similar to anything else, but the books themselves are a massive project. There's planning and plotting to be done and characters to be built, there're outlines and spreadsheets and notebooks to fill. Then there's the entire first draft to write.

But it's not over yet! Nope. You've got to go back through and read your entire book--which you find out is actually a complete mess. Then you have to figure out how to un-mess the whole thing, which means an entire second draft of the book. And when you go to read through that, you find it's not a perfect work of art now like you hoped. Instead, the problems you solved may be gone, but a dozen other issues went overlooked, and even more little plot holes have appeared with your solutions to the original problems. 

And the cycle repeats. Rereading and writing that next draft. When you finally have something you think you can share, then there comes the whole process of beta readers. And then they notice problems that you didn't, and then it's back to taking more notes and writing yet another draft. 

Looking at it like this--all the hours of work, all the frustration, all the effort and backtracking and hair pulling--it's easy to get completely freaked. And, if you're like me, at each one of these stages I look at all that it involves and think, "Where do I even start?" 

Over the next few weeks and months (however long I feel like it, I guess) I'm going to be talking about how to approach these steps in the writing process. I'll be writing about picking up ideas, taking on first drafts and re-reads, tackling edits, etc. And you might even join me on my adventure in where to start with beta reading. 

So. This is the intro post, but it's also got a bit of meat to it! Let's talk about taking on a new project.

For the first four years of my writing career, I worked on the same book series. I've mentioned it multiple times here, so I won't talk much about what it was I poured so much time into. But I will say that something sat a little off for me in the last year of editing. I kept thinking that there was something missing with this series. That I was falling short. That I wasn't writing a book worth reading, really. 

I was the only one who really cared about this story, and deep down, I knew I was the only one who ever would. 

And when I finally realized the days of writing my beloved first series were drawing to a close, I froze up. After texting my cousin, she said, "Just pick an idea and write a different book!"

Said like that, it sounds so simple. But doesn't it always? I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I was up for the challenge.

The problem, though, was where to start. 

And it's really not as difficult as you might fear. If, that is, you have the proper organization installed.

Do you want to know what I did when my cousin suggested I pick an idea? 

I picked an idea. I went to the folder I keep for random book ideas on my computer, looked at the ten or so files there, and selected number seven. I opened up that document, read the three pages of vague ideas and notes I had, and then I pulled out my journal and got to work.

So, when wanting to take on a project, my first piece of advice to you is to have all your ideas somewhere you can easily access them. If I hadn't written down ideas when I got them, if I hadn't kept my mind open and on the hunt for new stories, I wouldn't have had those ten or so ideas in that folder. But I did keep my mind open, and I did write down ideas when they came to me. 

So write your ideas down. Please. I know you think you'll remember them, but often that's not the case. Sometimes you will remember them (that's part of how you know it's a good idea) but if you don't write it down, you'll miss an integral process to idea development: voicing. Voicing your ideas by either writing or talking it out has a powerful impact on the development of it. 

After I picked out my idea, I set off on my second piece of advice. Ask lots of questions. 

Who was my main character? I had a vague idea already, and likely you do to, but I wanted to know more. How old is she, and where did she grow up? What are here parents like? Did she have parents at all that were a part of her life? Does she have any siblings? Who are her friends? Does she have any? Why, or why not? What are her hobbies? What does she like to do? Where does she like to go? Can she do what she loves? Why, or why not? 

I could go on and on. The more questions I asked myself, the more I got to understand my MC, and what kind of story I was preparing to tell. I realized quickly with this book I took on my MC's drive was directly related to her difficult life situation. And since the whole plot of the book was so rooted on that, I needed to know exactly how difficult my MC's life was.

Get to know your character. You might be freaking out and thinking, "I don't know what's going to happen in this story! I don't know what direction to take it!" I thought the exact same things starting out. There were so. many. possibilities. I didn't want to mess it up, or waste a good idea. 

But when you get to know your character, and when that character begins to breathe with a life of their own, that character will pick up the bits of plot ideas you have and arrange them in a way that suits them. They're the stars of the story, after all. It only makes sense that they lead the way.

A second key aspect to fleshing out an idea is getting to know your storyworld. Be it a fictional land or a historical period or a modern town; setting is important. 

One of the first things I did for this project was make a map. And it instantly clued me in on several very important things. It gave me the beginnings of the world's history, which led to the culture of the world, which greatly influences character. With this book, history was especially important as it played a key role the underlying plot.

Take it one step at a time--this is key to staying sane in any given stage of your project. If you look at the thing as a whole, you'll get overwhelmed fast. So take a deep breath, look at the step before you, and take it.

Lastly, pick a title. Even if you end up with something you know you won't keep, find something to call your book. I usually find my titles pretty early on, and they grow and mold into the story. 

I'll probably do a separate post on titling things, but I'll just make a quick note that titles are nothing to get worked up over. There are many different types of titles, and dozens of methods in forming them. Remember to take your time and breathe deep. It's okay if it's not perfect right off.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the book I've been talking about? That ended up being The Thief's Conspiracy. 

I hope you enjoyed today's post! Are you interested in this series? Please let me know in the comments! I wouldn't want to post a ton on something you guys don't enjoy ;) And give me some ideas. What are things in the writing process that stress you out and overwhelm you? 


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  1. thank you SO much for this. I feel the same way with the "where to start" with my novel right now. deciding to rewrite the whole thing, or edit, or replot. Leaning towards the replotting/rewriting the whole thing #yay -- I'm planning on doing camp nano, and using this month to figure everything out with it. anyways, thanks so much for this post. your blog never fails to inspire me <33

    sarah » the introverted extrovert

    1. Camp Nano YAY! That's always a great motivator. I'm so glad this post encouraged you! <3

  2. Great tips! I'm one of those people who always has a million plot bunnies that I'm chasing, writing them down is a good idea.

    1. Yasss. You may not think you need to, but it's almost always worth it! The worst you'll have to do is delete it :)

  3. I'm most certainly looking forward to this post series, Hannah! Although I'm not very good at developing my storyworld (and end up calling things "town-I-should-have-named-by-now", etc), I definitely start new projects by getting to know my MC. (Which is why I'm going to cut this comment short and head over to the next post in the series. ;)
    - Jem Jones


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