Some of the best writing advice I’ve ever heard came via J. Anderson Coats (who first heard it from fantasy author Elizabeth Bear). It’s simple and easy and everything: Learn to write this book.
I started this post with that title…and discovered I’ve already written one with that exact name! It was back in 2017, when I was writing Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine. It was a funny discovery and completely right.
Because every book is something I need to learn to write.
I’m working on a new novel idea. This time around I’ve been playing with the vaguest of images I’ve carried with me for years: a group of ravens gathered in a tree. There’s a tiny bit more, but I’ll leave it at that. I had no plot and not much else.
Last fall I started to research. I’ve added to my collection of notes off and on when I haven’t been working on something else. This summer, with my research done, it was time to see where to head next. The next step with this project that felt logical and doable was to transfer key bits from my journal to notecards. (Let it be known I’m not a notecard plotter, but somehow it felt right.) From there, the next logical, doable step felt like organizing those notecards into groups. And then organizing those groups in a time frame that made sense to me.
I decided it might be interesting to know when I could submit a new idea to my editor. So I checked my last contract and saw it was October third. Hmmm. What if I spent a week with these cards thinking and writing in my journal? What might happen after that?
Wildly, at the end of the week, a synopsis started pouring out of me. Like a plot, people! The thing I struggle with most, in a form that is most authors’ least favorite thing to write (put me on that list, too). I typed it up, editing as I went, getting familiar with the ideas and characters that sprang up from my week of thinking (that came from the organized note cards that came from a scattered group of ideas that came from a journal of notes that came from a lot of reading that came from a image I’ve carried in my mind for years).
Next I’ll bounce the synopsis off my critique group. I don’t really have an ending yet, and everything is 100% subject to change, but working from something is infinitely easier (for me) than working from nothing. And I like what I’m brewing! It echoes that image in my head. I curious to see where this goes.
The next small logical step (when I stop to listen to this littlest seedling of a book idea stirring) is to play with words on the page.
My contract says I can sell the next project on the first three chapters and a synopsis. It’s the way I sold Miraculous. Of course, there are no promises that what I write will be something my editor likes. But who knows? Maybe by October I’ll have enough of a beginning to go with the synopsis. That’s the goal, anyhow. For now, I’m learning to write this book.