Starting From Scratch

My law professor father used to like to say, “There are only two times I’m miserable—when I’m writing and when I’m not writing.”

And I have to agree.

Because when you’re in the middle of a book, you’re nervous about getting it right and angsting that you should be working on it whenever you’re not. But when you’re not in the middle of a book, you feel as if there’s something deeply missing from your life.

what am I missing just up the road?

The time I’m most miserable writing-wise, however, is when I’m embarking on a brand new book—starting from scratch. For there’s nothing more daunting and frightening than a blank sheet of paper (or computer screen, if you will). Especially if you have absolutely no idea what the story should be, yet have a deadline looming.

think, Leslie, think!

Plotting. That’s my bête noire. It’s what keeps me up at night, what makes me pour that second (or third) glass of wine. And that, alas, is what starting from scratch is all about for a die-hard plotter such as myself.

So when it came time to plot out the story for my new manuscript—the first book in a new series set on the Big Island of Hawai‘i—I pulled out a pen and yellow legal pad and brainstormed ideas as I sipped from my Pinot Noir.

thinking about Hawai‘i is pretty nice, actually…

And with brainstorming, anything goes. My protagonist will fight off a shark while pursuing the murderer? Sure! (I can cut out the shark in a later edit, if need be…) She’ll be asked to run a five-star hotel when the owner is killed by a falling coconut? Sure! (I can cut out the hotel in a later edit, if need be…)

dead bodies and hotels are a natural fit!

But no matter how wacky the ideas (or good—maybe that shark thing could actually work…), they always lead to more ideas, and then more. And eventually, a storyline begins to emerge, like tendrils of a tropical vine that starts slowly, but then, before you know it, has climbed all the way up the tree.

And then, finally, I start to relax. Yes. I can do this.


Readers: Do you find that you need a project to be working on in order to feel at peace with the world? Is is daunting when you first start out?

35 thoughts on “Starting From Scratch

  1. I do not need a project to be working on to be at peace. I’m a big fan of just sitting and *being* sometimes. There are times to work, times to play, and times to be.

    My husband, on the other hand, is not entirely content unless he is *doing* something, so I know exactly what you’re talking about.

    But the angst at beginning – or in the middle? Yeah. Totally get that. You just have to gather up the courage and start sometimes.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. There’s a lot to be said for just sitting and “being,” Liz! And I can do that for a period of hours–or even days, if I’m on vacation somewhere besides home–but then find myself thinking about “what’s ahead…”

      Liked by 3 people

  2. That blank page is the hardest, isn’t it? The first draft is the most difficult for me, and starting a new series is doubly difficult. Can’t wait to see what you keep for the final version!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. My first thought was: your law professor wrote? Mine used to sway up there at the head of the class, chanting “Can you say ‘Mercedes Benz’?” He went off to rehab that summer.

    But to answer your question, I’m miserable if I don’t have a project. Starting isn’t daunting because I have the luxury of only working from inspiration (a positive spin on not being under contract). The daunting part for me is when I get stuck or it isn’t turning out like I see it in my head. At this point, I’m miserable again. Perhaps that’s why I also paint, play harp (or say I play harp), and started lino-carving. Quicker projects, quicker satisfaction. Much opportunity for humility.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yes, he wrote a lot: at least 50 law review articles, and several books as well! (Google “Kenneth L. Karst” (the L is for Leslie, BTW), and you can read all about him; he was a pretty amazing guy.)

      And yes, I hear you. Other projects besides writing can sometimes do the trick for me, as well, but ever since I started on this mystery thing, it’s harder to find satisfaction in anything other than that…

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Ah, missed you were talking about your dad. I’m not focusing well this morning.

        At one point, I had compiled all the law on social worker negligence and considered writing a treatise. By the time I got done with that line of cases, I was happy to walk away from the subject. Another book was published soon thereafter.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m always working on some project. Usually I start one and before that is finished I have already started another one. However, sometimes I feel it is a little daunting.

    Thanks for sharing in the Cozy Mystery Village. Great article!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I just stayed up way too late watching mindless movies. One gave me a great quote though and my favorite character played by Gena Rowlands was quoted saying it. “Beginnings are scary, endings are often sad, but in the middle, hope floats” yep. Thanks for the images and reminders cannot wait to read the next one, though will miss the Santa Cruz references. Though have never been to Hawai’i so will have a new painted mind picture there.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I feel your pain, Leslie! But mine comes at release time. I love the outlining and first draft time, but I become a basket case when it’s time to unleash it unto the world. (Set your countdown clocks … when will Becky step off the ledge? I have a release in 15 days.) Why didn’t I—? Did I do enough of—? Did I do too much of—? Write a book? What was I thinking? Why didn’t I just go to Hawaii with Leslie???

    I have no doubt you’ll land on the perfect shark-and-coconut story!

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Thanks for sharing those fab pics, Leslie! Sharks and coconuts–what’s not to love in that story idea?

    I actually enjoy writing a first draft. There’s something really alluring about creating a whole new world on paper. What I don’t like are the revisions–especially the ones that come at the end after countless reads. By that time, I’m about ready to stab my eyes out with a pen before going over my own words again.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Love the pics, Leslie — and can’t wait for the new series! My fave part of writing is stage beginning — when all the possibilities are still open. I start to panic or despair in the muddy middle when I think I’ve written myself into a corner!

    Liked by 4 people

  9. OMG, Leslie, you totally nailed this on every level! The terror starting out, the weird, rootless feeling when you’re not writing a draft. I can relate to all of it.

    Your new series idea sounds GREAT. I’m so excited for you. Putting it out in the universe that it’s a quick sell!

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Leslie, I am always working on 10 different projects at once. Whether it’s creating recipes, making up characters for a book, doing a short story contest, reviews, some kind of craft, whatever, I’m always doing something and have some thing else in the wings. I personally love the very first part of the project, I’m loving the design aspect. Thats why I designed and built my own bookshelves. They are me. That’s the best part for me.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Leslie, I also vote for keeping the shark! Love this post. I’m all gung ho on beginnings and I’m heading the Light Brigade at the end, but it’s that killer Soggy Middle I hate. My personal fire swamp, but a lot less exciting. Never thought to write with a drink (a racy-romance writer trick as well, lol). I always thought I’d just get tired and lose focus/motivation—but maybe it’ll take the anxiety away instead. Hmm…

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Leslie, your new series sounds fabulous! Count me in as another can’t-wait-to-read-er.

    I love the idea stage and puzzling through the plot–and I enjoy the process of writing. I’m with Lisa on the soggy (or muddy) middle, though. It can feel like such a slog to connect the excitement of the beginning and the big finish. For me, writing a book a rollercoaster ride filled with both exhilaration and terror. And once it’s over, I’m grateful to be at the end AND ready to go again!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. You’re telling my story, Leslie. I just finished my fifth Natalie McMasters Mystery, Sniper! and I’m in the middle of organizing the publicity for the release next month. But that means I am not currently writing. I’ve got two future projects on the burner for next year – the follow-up to Sniper! and another H.P Lovecraft pastiche. The latter is largely plotted, but I have only a vague idea of where the Natalie story will go. Which one should I work on? (that’s a rhetorical question). I can’t get too involved in either right now, because I’ve got to keep my finger on the pulse of the release. But I feel like I’m doing nothing if I’m not writing. I’m even toying with the idea of cranking out a first draft during Nanowritmo. As Mr. C. Brown used to say, Aaugh!

    Liked by 2 people

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