Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Novel Ideas: When Should You Start?

Today I’m going to do something a little different: Instead of talking at you, I’m going to humbly ask for your advice, anecdotes, and similar worries. Here’s the thing. One aspect of being a writer that I have never had trouble with is making up fun and interesting ideas for novels. I always have several rattling around in my brain at any one time. Right now, despite the fact that I’m working on two novels already, I have three others planned for the future, not to mention the sequels to the draft I just finished and the one I’m 25,000 words into right now. That’s a lot of mind-clutter.

I never bite off more than I can chew. Two works-in-progress is enough (if not more than enough) to keep me occupied. But I do think about the other ideas. I can't help it. I imagine scenes, fashion dialogue, lay out plot points, etc., and I write these things down and save them until I finish my current project. As a result, by the time I begin working on a novel, I’ve usually already been mulling it over for several years.

My question is this: Is that a bad thing? Would it be better for the work if I just sat down and started writing the moment the lightbulb appeared over my head? Sometimes I become bored with whatever I’m working on, and I worry that this is because I’ve already spent so long with those characters and that story. Then again, I firmly believe in the value of long-term plot planning and getting under your characters’ skins before you do much writing about them. 

Are you a plotter (someone who plans things out, like me) or a pantser (someone who just goes with the flow)? Check out this post about it if you’re not sure. More importantly, to me at least, how long do you let an idea simmer before you tackle it? Is it better to jump right in while the idea is fresh and shiny, or to break it in a little, like a new pair of shoes? Maybe it's one of those things that varies from writer to writer, but still, I'd really appreciate your thoughts!


  1. I am definitely a pantser, though I do try to write some things in advance.

    I read something Stephen King said once where he claimed to never keep an "idea notebook" and instead let ideas fester in his head for awhile. He would then "check in" after he had time for the idea and see how well it had matured.

    Personally, I think it's fine to maybe put an idea or two you have for a future idea down but generally focus on your current story.

    I find that I need to be in the mindset of the story for awhile in order to keep working on it. I took a break from working on the novel I had for class for about two weeks and found I needed another week just to get back into the flow of my story. So I would say you could go ahead and generally get what you want for the other stories down and maybe put together some good ideas as they come but keep grinding on your current novels until you feel pretty satisfied. But that's just me, good luck!

  2. I lean toward the pantser end of the spectrum, but I have my plotter moments. Whenever I get story ideas, I jot them in my journal or on my computer. If I'm in the middle of a novel, I try to resist the new, shiny thing, especially if my goal is to finish the current novel.

    If you become bored with your current novel, that's an indication that something needs to change. Some writers put their novels to rest for a while until they can return to it with fresh eyes. Is that what you do?