How I Start a New Writing Project


It’s that time again. Time for me to start on a new writing project. Yep, already. In fact, one of my writing partners had the idea for this one before we finished our last project, and that’s the kind of schedule I love most: Starting before we finish. I thought I would share some of the ways I go about starting on a new, long-term project.

1. The Idea

First, there’s the idea stage. I usually brainstorm with my publisher. Well, these days, I brainstorm for my publisher. Every now and then, she tells me she has an idea I would be perfect for, but most of the time I pitch ideas to her. (That’s unusual for fiction, but not as unusual for nonfiction. If you have written for a publisher before, or if you have published articles, a publisher may seek you out to add books to its list on particular topics. That’s why you see certain authors used over and over for the same publisher, and it happens more often with nonfiction topics.)

2. The Publisher Pitch

Next, there’s my publisher’s pitch stage. This is not a step that happens for everyone, but my publisher recently decided to sell her company to a parent publisher, so she now clears all of her new book ideas with them. That is not at all uncommon for any big publishing company that owns multiple imprints, especially since the competition to sell paper books is so fierce. You don’t want to compete with yourself. In preparation for her pitch, I usually get a sample chapter ready, as well as a tentative table of contents. She has something to show the powers that be, which in turn creates a better chance for my project to receive final approval.

While I am waiting on the final okay—which means a contract—I wait around, especially if I have a great idea. After all, if it isn’t right for one publisher, that doesn’t mean it won’t be right for another. So, I keep working, if I don’t have other projects lined up—and often, even if I do. I work on other chapters, fine-tune the rough one, and meet with my coauthor for muffins and chai lattes. We love that part.

3. The Writing Schedule

After the “okay” comes in, it’s time to back up a schedule. Usually, I already have an idea of what my drop-dead due date is. I like to come in well before it, when possible. So let’s say that my due date is April 1, and I have a 128-page book to turn over. (This doesn’t include front matter and the pages I have already written.) If I get approval on August 1, I will have 31 weeks to write this book (not including holiday weeks), which means I need to write four pages per week with my coauthor to finish on time. That doesn’t sound like much, does it? However, if you think about how we need two weeks at the end to proofread, and we both have jobs and kids, and I am taking a class this year, and we need to approve each other’s work as we go, it’s actually going to be a brisk schedule! To be on the safe side, we should probably write about eight pages per week.

4. The Start

If you work with a writing partner, the hard part can be deciding how you are going to work together. Sometimes, you may do best if you brainstorm together. Other times, you need to separate, write, and come back together. It can be hard to know until you actually start meeting. I can work either way, but I need to meet with someone to get a feel for how they like to work. I actually prefer to work alone, but I have had three main coauthors. I have one who can work either way, one who really prefers homework, and one who works best with me present. Good thing I am flexible! Depending on what kind of writer you are working with, you need to decide what will happen at each meeting and what will happen in between so your time together isn’t a waste.

If you are working alone, it can be much harder to discipline yourself to get into a writing groove on a new project, once the “new project fire” that is lit under you dims a bit. You may find yourself working in bigger fits and starts, but what you can do is write a page count goal on your calendar every Saturday night. This means you have to meet that page count at the end of each week. If you are like me and hate to procrastinate, you will exceed it every week. I can’t stand falling behind. This number can take the place of a coauthor who says, “Why didn’t you get anything done this week? Are you really busy or lazy or just slack?”

So, now you know what I am up against this week. I am working on the prototype chapter, getting the schedule ready, and texting my coauthor a lot. And missing the chai and muffins. I am really ready for that to start up.


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