Endings…and Beginnings

Finishing a novel brings a slew of mixed emotions for me. First, there’s the satisfaction and relief of hitting the SEND button.  Then, there’s the joy of suddenly having some free time. 

Since I sent my new middle grade novel SUGAR ON SNOW off to my agent a few weeks ago, I’ve been on a reading binge, devouring Laurie Halse Anderson’s WINTERGIRLS, K.L. Going’s KING OF THE SCREWUPS, Daniel Pinkwater’s hilarious THE NEDDIAD, Lynda Resnick’s fascinating memoir of a marketing life, RUBIES IN THE ORCHARD, and Donalyn Miller’s incredible book about kids and reading called THE BOOK WHISPERER.  Reading so much without setting aside time to write always feels delicious and decadent….for a while.

But then something changes. Suddenly one night, the kids go to bed, 9:00 rolls around, and I start feeling…itchy.  Restless.  My fingers twitch, and I know It’s time to start a new project.  Time to pick one of the voices in my head, isolate it, and listen more carefully.

Usually, my books live in my brain for a good long time before I start writing, but this latest one seems to be bubbling up more quickly.  It’s a middle grade mystery – a new genre for me – and I’ve been daydreaming and thinking out loud and scribbling nonstop all week.  I know whodunnit and why that person dunnit.  I know what it’s going to cost to fly to Washington DC for the research I’ll need to do when I get further into the project – $186.

What I haven’t done yet is open a new file on my computer and type the title, because somehow, that simple act is a very big deal to me.  Once I start a new book, it feels like a commitment – a promise to show up at 9:00 every night and write.  So I’m careful to wait until I have a good idea who the characters are and where they’re going.  I worry about letting them down.  I’m not sure yet when I’ll open the file on this new book, but it’s feeling like it’s almost time. Maybe even next week.

So I’m curious now… How do new projects start for you?  With a bang?  Or a whisper?

24 Replies on “Endings…and Beginnings

  1. Spitfire

    Kate, Gib gave Robby a copy of Spitfire for Christmas. We loved it. Recently Robby was quite sick and we finished reading it together. Robby is in the 4th grade. Although he is a good reader, some of the words were difficult and the meanings were unclear to him. We had a great time working on it together. He was fascinated by the bathroom concerns for Abigail/Adam. (He still loves that bathroom humor). I enjoyed the “hospital boat” as I am a nurse. I cried at the end of the book when I realized that the two main characters never saw each other again. It is unusual for my to cry about things, but your book was so well written that it touched me. You really have the gift, so keep on writing!

    Marilyn McClure

  2. For me, each time is different. With my cupcake book, I had the idea and I was so excited about it, I sat down very soon after the idea came and it flowed and was such a gift. Other times, I have to mull things over for a long time. I have one simmering now that is going to be much more plot heavy and that makes me nervous. I’m probably going to do some note taking and maybe even write a synopsis before I start the actual writing.

    Yay for new ideas!! 🙂

  3. If I think about a project and I say I am going to write about it, I never end up writing it because I just forget whatever my ‘great-idea-for-a-story’ is.

    Idea’s usually just come to me at random times. I can be in the strangest places. (Wal-mart, middle of science class, the shower) it all just comes to me. Anything could give me the idea, sometimes it could be the dumb things my friends and I do or something coming from t.v or kids that misbehave in the mall (kids that are 10 or 11 and they start screaming cause their mom wont buy them something).

    Once I actually got down to writing it. I made a short book. 145 pages long with 38 chapters. I showed it to a couple people and then I just figured “Well now that thats done, I can move on.” Then I get ideas for something else or a sequal.

  4. Your post made me smile because I’m in the same twitchy fingers boat 🙂 Trying to hold off until I hear back from my agent but we’ll see!

    With the exception of one book, my stories simmer in the background for a while. When a character becomes ‘real’ in my mind and keeps me thinking about the story more than not thinking about it, that’s my cue to begin writing.

  5. I know exactly how you feel. I get a feeling of euphoria when I first finish a book, but it’s quickly replaced with regret that I won’t be spending time with characters whom I have grown to love. In the background, however, there are new characters nagging at me and, like you, I have to think about them quite a while before I can comfortably let my fingers loose on the keyboard.

  6. Some of my novels are historical ones and I find that the research often acts as a kind of buffer time for me. I like to break the back of the general research and while I am doing that the characters and storyline start to form. Once I start writing, I will still research but it tends to be less intensive and more specific relating to a particular question that has arisen during the course of writing An example of this type of research would be for a book set in Vancouver in 1923, what high school would a girl living in Chinatown attend.

  7. Might I suggest you do your DC research around May 8-11? Because I will be in DC that weekend, too!

    My books start with Big Bangs. Then there is a lot of expanding, percolating, colliding, thinking, dreaming, wondering, researching, and contracting. Eventually I start to doodle (my books almost always start out as diagrams). It is a long, long time before I get words on the page.

    Good luck with your new story, Kate!

  8. Usually with a slight scratching sounds that precedes the whisper. Then it knocks around in my head for a while, and eventually, I hear something that I simply must write down. And even then, sometimes it goes away. In the case of Jane and the gnomes, they came to stay.

  9. Usually when I first thing of an idea–or a beginning scene–I’ll sit down and dash it off. But then once that peters out, I might not touch it again for a long time. Weeks, months, years. Not until I’ve thought about where I’m going in greater depth.

  10. Mine start with a whisper. I like to think it through but sometimes I get so excited and write the first couple of chapters and then have to stop and think again. I totally relate to what you said about that sense of commitment you feel when you start a new novel because even though I have to finish revising my first novel so I can begin sending queries, I keep hearing my twelve-year-old mc from my wip begging me to get him out of his grandmother’s kitchen and on to his quest! 😀

  11. I know that my last novel will be coming back for revisions – whether it sells to the house it’s with right now or not – but I’d go crazy if I waited to start a new project.

    I love hearing about how other people need that same “permission” from the characters to get started – makes me feel a little less nutty!

  12. Oh that would be so much fun! I think, though, my trip is going to have to hold off until Memorial Day weekend, when I have a few extra days off from school.

    I hope you save those brainstorming doodles! (That would be a very cool blog post, by the way. I bet I’m not the only person who would love to see them!)

  13. Oh – does that mean there’s still hope for the three or four “Chapter 1” files that have been living on my computer for the past couple years? I find your process interesting because it’s so different from mine. I feel like when I start something too soon, I’ve jinxed it somehow.

  14. Sometimes, I think starting a new project is what saves my mental health by allowing me to “let go” of the old one, especially when so much of what happens on submission is so far out of my hands. I know that working on new projects is what kept me sane when I was querying a couple years ago.

  15. Every project is different. I don’t hear voices but I do need to reach a certain point of familiarity with characters before I actually start writing. Wait, that’s not true; I have started a project in which I keep writing the opening pages in hopes of finding the voice. I’ve never done that before so we’ll see how it works out.

    No help here. HA.

  16. As for me, I just yawn and write a bunch of stuff down without paying too much attention. Before I know it, the book is done and in perfect shape.

    Oh, and did I mention I am a pathological liar?