Back in November I blogged about setting goals for myself professionally. There’s so little we can control as writers. All we can do is write the best damn stories we can.
In that vein, and because I’m following the timeline I set out for myself last fall, I’m taking three months to ideate and outline what will eventually be novel number three.
It’s strange to go from working furiously on a deadline to having absolutely no outside pressure on my work. So of course I managed to muster a fair amount of pressure to put on myself.
Because I thought I knew what I wanted book #3 to be. I thought it was a ghost story. It had been percolating for a while in my head. But when I actually set to trying to figure out the story I hit wall after wall. I kept adding things to the story, then taking them away. It just wasn’t working.
The thing I couldn’t figure out was if there was a workable story in that mess of notes, or if the idea was just a dud.
Frustrated, I decided to stop. I let go of the idea completely. It was an extremely uncomfortable mental space. I didn’t like not knowing what was next in the pipeline, but I somehow sensed that the ghost story wasn’t it.
I took long walks. I browsed the library. Ideas would pop up and I would think “are you my next story?”
And ideas did come, but they weren’t stories. For me, stories are anchored in two things: a character who wants something and a setting. That was the litmus test. As each idea popped up I asked myself who the main character was and what they wanted. Follow up questions: where and when does this story take place.
And you know what? After a few days of floundering around, an idea did come. I’m not really ready to talk about it. Talking about a story before I have a draft is a super efficient way to kill my love for it, but I can say it exists.
Two Months to Think
In terms of my timeline, I still have two months left to ideate and outline ideas for novel three, before I set it aside and work on the second draft of novel two.
Carving out that kind of space has been super helpful for me to do the work that doesn’t feel like work and can be hard to justify: the long walks and day dreaming. I’m also doing a lot of reading, fiction and non-fiction, both directly and tangentially related to the story idea. It’s actually a really fun phase of the writing process, when I can embrace it for what it is.
If all goes well from here, I should have the beginnings of an outline soon. My hope is to start with something short (like a one page synopsis), which I can expand gradually as details come to me.
To help with that process, I’m planning to jump from paper to Scrivener some time soon. Stay tuned and I’ll share how that process unfolds.
Where do you get your story ideas? Do you set aside time just to think or do you just start writing and hope the ideas come? I’m very curious to hear how other writers navigate these waters.