• Kamy Wicoff
  • The Blank Page: 3 Tips for Starting Something New
This blog was featured on 07/28/2016
The Blank Page: 3 Tips for Starting Something New

My first novel, Wishful Thinking, came out in late April, but as any of you who have published books traditionally know, that means I finished it nearly a year before that, and had done most of the heavy lifting, writing-wise, even longer ago. It has been years, in other words, since I was caught up in the maddening, wondrous, joyful struggle that is writing a book, and I am more than ready to dive back into it. Having been in "promotion" mode for the last six months, which sometimes feels a bit like being in a really loud bar trying to be heard as you talk and talk until your voice gets hoarse (though don't get me wrong, it's fun being in the bar, particularly when somebody actually listens to you), I am longing to retreat to the world of my own imagination, to the quiet solitude of my desk and my thoughts. 

But of course this prospect is also terrifying. It's the blank page again for me--time to begin again.

I have an idea, thank god, though this time around, I will be writing something much less autobiographical, and so the task feels both more thrilling and more formidable. I do have a few strategies, however, for starting something new. And I hope it goes without saying, as I enter this fraught writerly territory, that I would love to hear yours!

1. Research

Research, research, research! I only have one novel to my name, but from the beginning, research was critical to my process. (With my first nonfiction book, it was indispensable.) By reading as much as I could about topics that related to my characters lives and interests, I found inspiration for plot lines, settings, and even character traits I would never have "invented" otherwise. This is the phase I am in now: not only reading books on the subject of my novel, but visiting the city where it will be set (Dallas, Texas), and interviewing people in the stage of life my main character is in as well. A word of warning on this one, however: research can become a form of procrastination. Do enough to get you started, and then start writing. You can, and should, continue to research as you go along.

2. Dream

I always feel guilty when I'm not writing. But what does "writing" mean? In this early stage, I am thinking about my characters all the time, wondering who they are, what their families are like, and how their stories will unfold. I do this when I'm walking, buying groceries, and even at the gym, often in ways that wouldn't be as productive if I were sitting in front of my desk trying to force them to come to life. I'm just getting to know these people, letting them take shape, allowing them to be one way, and then another. To do that, I have to give myself the freedom to let my mind wander without beating myself up that I'm not "writing." Because I am. 

3. Read

With this book, I'm trying a new genre, and I sought out a close friend whose writing I admire to give me a list of books to read. I needed to get a sense of this genre's conventions, educate myself about what's out there, understand what has been successful, and what has not. It's important for me to study the form and its audience before setting out to put my own unique stamp on it. 

So now you tell me: what are your strategies for starting something brand new? 


* This post was originally published in September 2015.

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  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Thank you very much for the tips.  I have some content I've written for my first novel, but I have lots of research to do, too.  Best of luck!

  • Peggy Creighton

    I find that it helps me to collect a lot of artifacts that represent my character. I gather photos and clothing items and collectibles that seem to fit the character. (Pinterest works well for gathering virtual artifacts, too.) I write a description (for myself) and then ask the character questions. What would you do if...? I also try to think of several people that this character might befriend. What would they have in common?  It can help to watch movies, too. My character might be a like a combination of characters from favorite movies. Some of this is done beforehand and some is done once I start writing to help me figure out what she might do or say next. Once the character comes alive on the page, I don't need these crutches anymore.

  • Jeanne Nicholas

    I really cant remember how I started my latest story.  I basically started writing.  I'm sure I had a particular scene I wanted to capture as the words poured out on paper.  I started with that strong scene and have expanded outward from there.  The image I mentally drew created an action scene, and the action scene expanded to a plot, the plot expanded to multiple characters, the characters took over and stopped letting me interfere.  I'm on schedule to hit 100,000 word count for first draft of a science fiction book in DEC 2015.  I'll probably set it aside from there and start working on book 2 for continuing saga.  It has helped immensely that I began participating in a writers group that meets regularly to critique chapters from my writing.  I have written more words this year on one story than any other.  I like how its all unfolding even if my lead character thinks I'm nuts. 

  • AR Neal

    Great post! I love Cate's as well (had to giggle multiple times, particularly with the write-with-my-feet comment). I too was shoved about and emotionally forced to engage with my current work in progress. I wanted to go one way, but it wanted to go another. I started writing and was feeling quite proud of my momentum, until it dawned on me that I was standing waist-deep in a murder-mystery! What? I am a speculative fiction girl! And the icing on that cake was the touch of romance it seemed to be gathering. I certainly don't do romance writing. I was a bit uncomfortable with it but realized that this was where the story needed to go. I took a break from the writing to outline so I wouldn't get swept into the deep of confusion. Now that I have pages of outline, I have gone back as they say, to put flesh on those bones. It's coming along and I look forward to going back through, writing a synopsis, and seeking an agent. Very exciting times, even though this is new to my way of writing. I tend to be the bull in the china shop -- sit down, start writing, stop when the story is finished, go back and revise/edit. Not this time. 

  • Mary Ellen Latela

    1. Tami, 'when I see an empty page I usually spend some time in freewriting, you know the automatic writing without stopping for 5 or 10 minutes, no thought to grammar spelling, etc. Remember Julia Cameron (The Artist's Way) and her suggestion that every artist start the day with free writing - to open the creative faucets, I think.

    2. Research... I love it I love it I love it.... and when I have a topic which I find intriguing I like to look at it from many many angles, and look at what is means and what people are writing .... Of course, it's important to keep the citations with, so that you an go back to them easily....  And it's important to be cautious ... anyone can put anything on the net, and some of it is good and some of it is .... straight for the delete basket.

    3. Read... yes, all genres and particularly a new one for you. 

    4. Don't cut out seemingly unrelated early writing: Sometimes find myself retelling something old, but in a new way....even writing the date at the top of the page will trigger something.  

    5. Be sure to hydrate, take a walk, think it over, etc... all the self-care necessary.

    Just somethings I find help me focus. Mary Ellen