And Now, The Truth: I Don’t Like Starting New Novels

By Lisa Alber

This picture doesn't represent my writing life.

This picture doesn’t represent my writing life.

I hereby declare that I don’t like starting new novels. What? you might be thinking. How can that be? Are you not a novelist creature? A person who loves the process, whose nature it is to gush via the written word?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. But here’s a corollary truth: Within any process there’s always that one task you can’t stand but have to do anyhow. For some novelists it might be copyediting, for others, research. For me, it’s getting into the danged first draft. I dislike it even more than the dreaded muddle in the middle.

You’d think I’d be in the infatuation period with my story right now. Everything about it ought to be bright and shiny and new and on its way to happily ever after, like, for sure.

I wish.

It’s more like I’m dangling over a precipice without a net. The other day, I realized that knowing my characters, their arcs, and the overall plot isn’t enough. There’s some indefinable something missing. I barely know what I mean by that either. It’s just a feeling that’s not in my body. A feeling of rightness even though I’ve had inklings and a-ha moments during the pre-writing development stage.

Right now my writing feels flat, uninspired. And I wonder, is that because for the first time in my life I’m writing under a strict publishing deadline?

It's more like this.

It’s more like this.

Publishing deadlines being what they are, this novel isn’t due until a year from now. Believe me, I’ll need the whole year. I can’t procrastinate. And, more importantly, I can’t wait for the “rightness” to sail me out off the precipice on its gossamer wings.

I’m getting words down on virtual paper every day and trying to maintain faith that at some point (please, let it be within 50 pages!), I’ll feel a surge as I realize what the heart and soul of the story really is. In other words, I’m faking it a little bit right now–at least that’s what it feels like.

So what do I mean by “heart and soul of the story” anyhow? I mean the hook. Not the hook for the reader. MY hook as the writer. No one ever talks about that, but for me it’s uber-important to feel an “in” with the story, as if it’s an organic being and I need to find my way into a relationship with it. This might come about when I finally see the shape of the story in my head. Or when I understand the story’s essential truth in five words or less. Or maybe it’s about the theme. Or maybe it’s about discovering the voice for the first-person protagonist. It’s different for different writers, different stories.

There is no answer here. I’m where I am in a process, and I’ve been here before (though not exactly like this). I’ve set a rule for myself, which is 1,000 words per day. Some days it’s like climbing up prickly branches (see picture). Other days, it’s just a job; get ‘er done. Other days, it’s sheer joy.

I can bitch with the best of them, but in the end, I’ll finish my novel by the deadline.

What part of the writing process (or any process in your life) do you not like? How do you work through it?

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9 thoughts on “And Now, The Truth: I Don’t Like Starting New Novels

  1. I write in bits and spurts. When I’m excited, focussed and interested, I can write 5-10 pages a day. Then I decide that it’s all useless and garbage. Nothing I write will ever be as good as the first book – yadayada and won’t go near the computer – well, not exactly true, I’ll be on Facebook and news sites etc.. Then I go back, read what I’ve written and decide it’s actually not that bad. And I go back to writing. I do a rough outline, know basically where I want it to end up, and the basic shape of the book. But I hate doing detailed outlines. Part of the fun for me is that I don’t completely know what’s going to happen. I get to be in the world I’ve created and go with it. I also know that the first draft will have to be edited – a lot. But one way or the other, I usually get a draft of a novel within a year. Part of it is accepting that this is how I write.

    • I hate detailed outlines too! I feel good when I know who the villain is and who gets murdered and a general sense of the climax. But that’s about it. Oh, I like knowing my character arcs though–I’m fairly detailed about that, but that’s not the same as a plot outline.

  2. This is funny because my absolute favorite part of writing is starting new novels! I have dozens of lovely starts. It’s when reality hits about 100 pages in that I smack up against the this-is-all-crap slump.

    • Haha! Maybe that’s why you have so many projects and I have so few. I’m in and out of the this-is-crap slump the whole way. Right now, I’m actually having an OK time over in the manuscript. Writing going OK — maybe blowing of steam writing the blog post helped!

  3. Good luck, Lisa! I totally understand exactly what you’re saying. I’m in the same boat right now. So glad you’re “faking it till you make it.” The important thing is keeping momentum until the inspiration finally smacks you in the face and says, “I’m here!”

  4. Pingback: So, How’s the Novel Coming Along? Muddles and Middles | ShadowSpinners

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