Let's Get This Party Started

Jun 20, 2007 | Writing

Yesterday I started the new book. Of course I made my latte first. Two shots of espresso and steamed nonfat milk go a long way toward getting the muse rolling. Then I grabbed the composition book I’ve been jotting notes in for months, my favorite pencil and a red pen, and got to work. For an entire hour. Because that was all the time I had.

Now the last thing I did was dive right into writing pages. Chapter 1 isn’t even on my mind. And even though I know the basic story, since I had to write a proposal for my editor, I’m not ready yet to start writing. Because when I start writing, I don’t want to spend too much time fussing over the plot or the storyline. And since my proposal was only four paragraphs long, and just the barest of outlines—more query letter than nitty gritty plot—the first task at hand is to sketch out some semblance of plot.

So how do you go from a blank page in a composition notebook to the barebones framework of a book in an hour? With my favorite brainstorming exercise: 20 Things.

And just to make sure I don’t cheat, I make a numbered list, 1-20 and then ask myself, “What are twenty things that could happen in this book?” Then I don’t let myself off the hook until I have ALL 20.

The real benefit of using a List of Twenty doesn’t start to show itself until you get to about 15-18. Those are usually gems. It takes that long to sort through the boring cord wood ideas your mind offers up when you get started. By the time you get to 15, the story is starting to churn to life. The character’s voices rise above that safe and dull editor who writes things like:

  • They kiss
  • They make love
  • They argue

    (By the way, you are allowed to use those in your brainstorming if you need some filler at about 12-14.)

    Now over the next few days, I’ll let those ideas sink in. I’ll tinker with them. I’ll make another List of Twenty, and then another one. All the while building my story bit by bit. And alongside this brainstorming, I’ll start working on my characters. More on that later in the week, as well as getting your research done up front. For now, just think of scenes. What would happen. Don’t dismiss any idea—write them all down. You never know what might work later. We’ll be storyboarding this all out by the end of the week, so get going!

    Time to drive through all those roadblocks, move them out of the way now, so we can get down to the business of writing this book. Even if you are in the middle of a project, consider setting aside the keyboard and working out your own List of 20 for the rest of your book so you can focus entirely on the writing between now and December 1st.


    1. Haven Rich

      Quick question!! Where did you get your mug? I’ve been looking for some really cute mugs to give a friend to go with her “gift”.

      Wow, what great insight to a planned book hehe. I’m such the pantser that I wrote the first three pages of my story and am not even sure what type of story I’m going for. It could be funny, gothic, sweet, boring haha. I don’t know yet.

      I’ve seriously been thinking about actually trying this plotting/planning thing. Since I’m OCD about everything else in my life, a few more lists wouldn’t hurt.

      Hope you have a wonderful day!

      PS. You made me want coffee and I’ve already been up for well over 24 hours. I don’t think I need coffee.

    2. Shelly S.

      Plotting and planning. What an interesting concept! When I start a new book (and I’ve started plenty, thank you very much!) I tend to use the spew method. That’s where I type like mad because dialog and personality quirks and descriptions–not to mention pithy wordplay–descends in a flood. If I don’t get it all down it comes back to haunt me in the middle of the night and I can’t get any sleep. The challenge comes in wrangling all this brilliance (and it’s all brilliance at 2 am) into something workable.

      Hand writing anything with a pencil or pen is a problem for me because later I can’t figure out what the heck I was trying to say. Was that a plot point or a shopping list?

      Obviously I need to try something different, because I am 30,000 words in and hitting walls. I loved the 20 Things. Great brainstorming tool!

    3. Elizabeth

      Haven, the mug is from Starbucks. I got it a while back, so don’t expect to find one, but they have some really cute mugs in now–at least they did the other day, when I had to talk myself out of getting another one. I have this sort of . . . well, cute mug habit.

      Shelly, I run into that with my handwriting sometimes, but I actually write quite a bit of my books in longhand–I find it really gets the creative juices going just writing away in a notebook.

    4. AndreaW

      Now I have that song in my head….”Let’s get this party started, right?” LOL!

    5. Janelle

      What absolutely wonderful advice. I’m going to do it right now! *runs off*



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