Stop, start, stutter, repeat: My attempts at starting book two

When creating goes wrong (picture source: http://pajamadiaries.com)

When creating goes wrong (picture source: http://pajamadiaries.com)

I had an idea for a new book. This was back in September while I was in the final phase of editing book one. It was a great idea (in my own humble opinion), one that I’d never seen before and one that I was sure would resonate with a large audience. It was a very different idea from the book I was about to complete but that didn’t matter. The concept was excellent. I’d even written an opening chapter which was guaranteed to draw people in. I needed to research a number of areas but that was fine. All I needed to do was finish book one and I would get right onto it.

By November I’d finished book one and sent queries to a number of agents in the hope of representation. I was too late to take part in NaNoWriMo with my new idea as I hadn’t started my research, but I wasn’t worried. There was under no time pressure. Because it was a contemporary novel I wanted to get the detail right, and as a thriller I felt that it was better to make sure the key plot points were clear before starting. To help my research I’d arranged to interview people who were involved in the area I wanted to write about, and I researched my key locations online with a plan to visit them in person before Christmas. All was going well. The concept still excited me.

By the beginning of January I had decided I’d been procrastinating for too long. I hadn’t had a chance to run any interviews, or visit the locations as planned, but I wanted, no needed to start. Over the Christmas period I had received two rejections of my first book and  silence from the other agents. I knew that this was part of writing, but I was feeling fed up, so my plan to kick myself out of a rut was to start something new. The problem was, my enthusiasm for the project had died. It was still a great concept, it was still something that was current, important, and with a large potential audience. It’s just that I had lost something on the way. The initial spark that is so important when starting a new project had gone. I struggled for a few days, writing a few hundred words here and there, but I struggled to get into the heads of the characters. It was a miserable feeling. I was a failure.

Then the other night, while I was lying in bed worrying about my writing, worrying about why nobody was interested in my book and generally feeling like giving up, I had the idea for a character. It was a vague outline but I immediately picked up the notebook I keep beside my bed and scribbled furiously. I hadn’t any idea of what the story might be, but I knew how the character thought, what their conflict was and why it made them so compelling. It was the first time I’d felt this enthused about writing for months. So I took the  decision to park my initial idea for book 2, put to one side the research I had completed, and write about this character instead. It wasn’t that I’d  given up with the original idea, it’s just that I decided to wait until the enthusiasm returns so I can do the story justice.

Today I sat at my computer and wrote for four hours straight. I wrote around two thousand words, all about this new character. Sadly they were two hundred words at a time, as I repeatedly started writing the story, stopped, decided it wasn’t good enough, deleted everything and started again. And again. And again. By the end of today I have exactly no words written but a lot of excitement. Well, you can’t have everything. I’ll try again tomorrow.

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17 thoughts on “Stop, start, stutter, repeat: My attempts at starting book two

  1. I look at most things like quitting smoking, writing included. I must have tried 30 times before something finally took. Yours will “take” eventually, because it sounds like you’ve found an idea that won’t let go of you. It can be frustrating, but I find that if an idea won’t let go, but I can’t seem to execute it , another fragment, thought or development will come along and then it all clicks. It’s the waiting and that sense of “failure” that is tough. Think of it as the warmup…

    • Thanks for the support. It’s funny, I’d always thought writers block would feel differently. What caught me by surprise was that my first book flowed really easily. I’m hoping that once I get started I’ll be flowing again. I’ll let you know.

  2. Dylan – I think we’ve all had fallow periods like this when we think we are total failures – but a writer needs to grow a thick skin and know that actually, you can and will write – just not today. Let your characters spin around a bit, imagine scenarios with them, have conversations with them. Jot a few things down (like you did while in bed!) and then …. why not try out a few short stories instead? Focus in on one scene, one moment in time with your character and write it really well. Limit yourself to a ridiculous word count – say 300 – and write something that can stand alone. Then, the next time, lengthen your word count, try a different scene, a different character… etc. Prove to yourself that you write very well. Either file these short attempts away to be used as part of a greater whole, or enter a few competitions with them. Keep going – you can do this!

  3. Ideas start in all different ways. Sometimes it’s an intriguing premise, sometimes a character, sometimes a scene or setting. No matter how it starts, it encourages us to build out from that initial nugget and explore the endless possibilities. That’s the thrill of fiction writing. And we must strike while the iron is hot, before everything we’ve been excited about disappears into oblivion. I’m sure every writer reading this post can relate to your start-stop frustration. We just have to keep chugging along, don’t we?

    • Thanks Gwen. Yes, we do have to keep chugging along although at points this week I feel I’ve been laying on the ground, inching myself forward with just the tips of my fingers. I’ve decided to concentrate on dialogue for a bit, as I find that the easiest and it’s through dialogue that I tend to discover my characters. it seems to be working, at least for now, though I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s leading anywhere.

  4. Oh, boy, Dylan, I’m so with you in the first half of this post. I stopped working on my never-ending Work In Progress back in October when the demands of my job overwhelmed me, and I just can’t get back into it. I’ve actually had a lot of time since the New Year to work on it, and I keep berating myself, “You should be working on that dumb book!” but I just can’t bring myself to even open the file on my computer.

    I’m hoping to find that flash of excitement that gets my engine revving again, like you seem to have discovered, somewhere.

    • I read that writers block is fixed through perspiration, not inspiration, so I’m carrying on writing. It is very hard, though.
      Why don’t you just open that file and have a little look at what you’ve written. Maybe reading it back will spark some thoughts that sets the whole thing rolling again.

  5. I do understand this. I’m just completing the writing of my second book and I agree with, when I look back and wonder how it all went or started or anything else, I think, once you get a character inside your head he starts to drag you long through his development, and its up to you to put some stuff in there which trips him up and makes the whole thing interesting. With both my books, I had no idea how they were going to end when I started them, but it sort of came to me as I continues writing. Perhaps the same thing will happen to you. Best of luck with the first book. it would be great to hear that it has been accepted somewhee

    • Hi Peter, thanks for dropping by and for your kind words. I love reading your blog. You have such a distinctive writing voice that makes every one of your stories sparkle with life, giving me pleasure and envy in unequal measure – much more of the former, I promise – so your support means a lot.

  6. Dylan — Echoes of my most recent post, on which you commented, so I’ll return the favor. I refuse to call this state “writer’s block”. Perhaps that’s a perfect example of being in denial, but I know exactly what’s going on, For me, it’s sheer laziness. Writing is painful (note your day of excited writing) and often a case of all work and no glory. But the fun parts, the excitement of discovery, keep me going back for more. Last year, I heard a writer explain that reading is all about “savoring the not-knowing”, and I believe this ought to apply to writing as well. If I can put that not-knowing to good use, it might actually get me back into the chair at my desk to do some writing. Hey, I think I’ve just talked myself through my own block! Wow. Thanks for the double nudge, Dylan.
    And belated congrats on your book. I’m looking forward to reading it.

    • Lizzie – you are right that in some cases it can be sheer laziness. Procrastination is a writer’s biggest enemy (actually, I think alcoholism could be ranked higher, but it’s a close run thing.) I hope you get back writing and soon because as you say, it is thrilling when the story takes you over because each day is a discovery. Also, thanks for the congrats. If you do get around to reading my book I hope you enjoy it.

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