While Story Ideas Boil
There’s a novel waiting for you — a novel that requires your unique experiences, voice, and skill to write. If only you knew exactly what it was. Often, a writer’s only hope is to approach a book idea with care and deliberation. We explore the possibilities in our daydreams and jot down the thoughts that flash by like lightning bugs. We allow the book to come to us. Sometimes the distance between author and story closes at a steady pace as world-building pieces are laid down like roadwork in an industrial city. Sometimes, progress is much, much slower. What can authors do while our ideas simmer, while we prepare them with all the right ingredients?
Keep your writing skills fresh with short stories
It can be tempting to put all your effort and energy into developing a novel idea while neglecting the act of physically writing. Especially when it’s your first book. But few things are worse than finally sitting down to type that first sentence and realizing you haven’t written anything in months. You’re out of practice, and now your skills aren’t up to the task of bringing your carefully crafted world to life.
Write a Hook That Captivates
Learning from masterful first sentences to refine a mediocre one
The best way to avoid this is to keep writing while you wait for ideas to settle. Writing short stories is an excellent way to do this. They can be challenging and will push you to your limits as a writer. Best of all, writing short stories prepares you to write your book. After all, each chapter is supposed to be a sort of short story on its own. When it comes time to write that first sentence, writers who have continued to hone their skills will be more than ready to jump right in.
Read as much as possible
Writers who don’t read are surprisingly common, and I can usually tell one by reading their work; they tend to write stories that feel like words on a page instead of engrossing tales. I can’t imagine a film director who doesn’t watch movies or a singer who listens only to instrumental music. How would they know what audiences expect? How could they understand the necessary techniques?
Writers who don’t read tend to write stories that feel like words on a page instead of engrossing tales.
Reading consistently does not make you a good writer in itself. It is, however, a necessity. It allows you to recognize flaws in your own work by pure instinct. Not to mention, reading is an excellent source of inspiration.
Perfect your writing style
In my first year of being a writer, I probably read a dozen articles on “voice” alone. It seemed as if I needed to completely rewire my brain to produce unique-sounding sentences or witty dialog. The truth is, finding your writing voice is nothing more than practicing your craft in a variety of styles. I wrote serious short stories with dramatic diction and sweeping sentences that spanned half a page. I tried playful biographical pieces recounting humorous events in my life. I wrote informative, non-fiction pieces with an academic (and somewhat pretentious) tone.
Finding your writing voice is nothing more than practicing your craft in a variety of styles.
Eventually, I found I could keep a consistent, familiar voice across many different genres and mediums. I discovered what I was good at and worked to strengthen these skills. The planning stage of a novel is the perfect opportunity for writers to establish their voice.
Work on side projects
Every experienced writer knows how dangerous this piece of advice is. Pursuing a “pet” project can clear up writer’s block and inspire new content in your main work in progress. However, some of us end up with a second pet project, and then third. Then a fourth. Soon, our time and energy are stretched between a half-dozen ideas, and none of them are getting the attention they need to really turn into something worthwhile. I would advise no more than two projects at once. Three if you must. Beyond that, it can be more harmful than helpful. Nevertheless, a side project can be extremely helpful for developing your skills and helping you through times of writer’s block.
Pursue other hobbies
95% of my world-building occurs when I’m nowhere near my laptop or notebook. There’s something profoundly beneficial about letting your mind wander while you do something you enjoy. I’ve solved countless plot-holes while shooting a basketball or building something with LEGOs. Engaging in a tactile hobby that leaves room for daydreams and simple problem solving is an excellent way to brainstorm, plot, and world-build.
Keep an open mind
Until that first draft is written, a story is hardly more than a vague mental map and a scattering of notes and words documents. This a beautiful stage in its lifetime, one that allows a unique level of flexibility. You are free to do anything without having to make edits or rewrites. Want to swap out the main character? No problem. Would this story work better as a trilogy? Not too late to make that decision. You could even switch genres entirely or decide on a different tone or target audience.
The point is, don’t set your heart on anything. Allow everything to be questioned. Open yourself to changes that will improve your novel, its characters, and the way you present it to your future audience. Because once your story is on paper, changing things becomes much harder. Sure the manuscript will mutate in the months to come, and rewrites are inevitable. But making those changes now can only benefit you.
Open yourself to changes that will improve your novel, its characters, and the way you present it to your future audience.
Pursue your own life
One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is this — missing out on your own life. The best writers are those who are keen observers of the world around them, who understand their emotions and the things that cause them to shift, who understand people, who spend the weekend with new and old friends, who aren’t afraid of adventure. The best writers are the ones who can be productive and still find time for new experiences.
Preparing to write a new novel is often an immense task, especially when inspiration and direction elude us. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to stay productive in the time between.