Question of the Week: Waiting Before Writing

23 Apr

Hey all, just a quick reminder, we are still having a Comedy Contest, the deadline for which is May 1st. We’ve got some entries already, so crack open your arsenal of hilarity and crack our ribs in the process!

And another reminder for the fantabulous Book Cover Contest which is also still running! The deadline is May 1st as well, so break out the coloured pencils and flaunt your visual art skills!


This week’s question come’s from Landon, who asks:

When an idea for a novel first strikes you, how long do you stew over it before actually writing?


It depends. Sometimes, it’s months–maybe years. I wrote the first chapter of what would become HADES during my senior year of high school–and then I let it sit on the back burner for…five years. With A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, I came up with the idea one random day, and then two or three weeks later, I began writing the first book.

Right now, I have at least eight different stories brewing–some of them have been brewing for years, others for months…but none of them are ready yet. It’s hard to tell WHEN they’ll be ready–I usually just wake up one morning utterly excited to write it, and realize that it’s time for me to get them down on paper. That’s not very sound advice, but I think that feeling of knowing when it’s ready comes from a combination of getting most of the concrete details down, as well as just getting that spark of excitement/inspiration.

The Writer Still Excited About Landing Her First Book Deal


It’s never the same for me. I never start writing right away, although if I think of a great line or scene, I’ll jot down some quick notes. But I like to let it work itself out as much as possible in my head before I go about getting it down on paper. For the most part, I’ll wait till I have a good sense of who the characters are or what the plot is; and even if I don’t know everything that will happen, I tend to surprise myself as I write and go a different direction anyways.

For my current YA MS that I’m writing, I let it stew around in my mind for around 5 years; which, really, is turning out to be more difficult than if I had just let it swirl around my mind for a couple of months. The reason? I’ve rewritten the story so much in my head over the 5 years, that I find myself wondering if I should bring back certain elements from past “mental” revisions as I write. Now, I was always just too busy to even get around to writing it, which is why it took forever to start it; in all honesty, I was ready to start writing it years ago. I have one idea that’s been developing in my mind for 6 years now, and that story hasn’t really changed much; but I know that I’m still not ready to write it. Another is one I just came up with a few weeks ago, and it’s getting to the point where I know that soon, I’ll have to start writing it. Some stories only took a couple of weeks to begin writing, and others a few months. My advice is, start writing when your characters start demanding it in your mind; when you wake up just itching to write it. Just go with your gut; you’ll know when a story is ready to write.

– The Writer Writing Her First Book


Great question! For my first few books, I wrote when inspiration struck, after maybe a day of outlining. But after I began revising my book for publication, I became a bit of a technical writer. Just a bit: the melodramatic, emotion gushing writer is still in me. Somewhere. Now, I do have a new book in mind. But I’m still trying to get to know the characters. I need to know them before I can get writing, otherwise…I get stuck often. Also, I need to come up with a great ending that will be like a compass to me, directing me through the rest of my story. This last bit (about needing a good ending) is the factor that has ALWAYS got me through my projects. I need that exciting final scene at the end to keep me forging onwards from chapters one. I would have probably started this book by now had I not been busy revising my current manuscript. I have to send it back to an agent. But as soon as I do, I’m going to start planning out my new book right away. Yes. I need a plan, just as a man needs a map when in the wilderness to find his way back home.

The Writer Who Got a Full Request


It depends for me as well. When I got the idea for Priscilla the Evil I knew I had to write it right then, so I got to a stopping point in my WIP and just sat down and wrote it. Other ideas stew for much longer. I usually start with a character and a situation but sometimes I just have a character floating around and I can’t really start writing until I know what she’s going to do. That’s the point I’m at right now; I’m revising my last WIP and trying to figure out a plot for a character I’ve had hanging around for years. Until I know what’s going on I can’t begin.

The Writer Querying Agents


I’ve found that if I start writing immediately I lose the story. I get so eager to capture the particular feeling I want that I write weird plot lines and fuzzy characters, and then the idea gets ruined because they’ve already imprinted on these bad plots. Ideas are like baby chicks that way :-).

I try to give it a few weeks to let things sit around in my head before I start seriously writing. I take a few notes, maybe write a short description or a few lines of dialogue if something is really beautiful to me, but I leave the major plotting for when I’ve had a while to really work out the details. Also, I’ve started using Synopses, and they are SO great, because they help me map out the plot before truly beginning, and I’m less likely to feel stuck or mired down.

-The Writer Waiting on Submissions


I’m constantly thinking up new ideas, and I almost always think each new idea is the best idea I’ve ever had.  Of course, I’m almost always wrong!  My love affair with a new idea usually lasts about twenty-four hours.  During that period of time, I make sure I type up enough notes that I won’t be able to forget where the idea was going.  If I was inspired by something specific – a song lyric, for instance – I’ll add that into my notes, too.

Sometimes, just that simple exercise of getting the idea down on paper is all I need to show me that the idea doesn’t work.  But if the typed notes still hold my interest when I re-read them the next day, I’ll start to describe the idea to the people closest to me.  Many times, just talking about an idea out loud will be enough to show me that it isn’t going anywhere or that I’m not truly in love with it.  For me, it really comes down to the question, “Could I spend the next two years of my life developing, revising, and hopefully promoting this story?”

If I’m still answering these questions with, “YES!  YES!!!”  I start outlining.  Then I flesh things out, and then flesh them out more.  I do character analyses and work up the back story.  All of this background work could take a month or more.  If I get through all of that, and I still really believe in the idea, I start the actual ‘writing.’

-The Newest LTWF Contributor Who is Already Out on Submissions!


I wait. A plot is obviously important in a story, but for me, when I’m just starting out, it’s more important to have dynamic characters. If my characters aren’t realistic, then I won’t want to explore them, and the plot will flop by association.

It’s like when a boring person tries to tell a story. Nobody wants to listen to them; they’re boring. I’m the same in the writing sense, where I won’t want to write them because they’re just not interesting. I have to really have a good sense of what kind of characters I want them to be. Then I can take those personalities and think, “What might happen if I put this person in this situation?” and they actually help me shape and define the plot. By the end, almost always, the story arch will have taken crazy turns, simply because the characters have become entities of their own and won’t have always bent to my will. I don’t mind though, it generally turns out a lot more intense than the initial idea :).

Another reason I might wait is because I’m not, for lack of better words, “mature” enough to write what I want to write. I don’t believe I have the right life experiences to portray the story and people in the most realistic way possible. There are a couple of those floating around in my head, and I can see them, but they’re just out of reach.

-The Writer Editing her First Novel


Do YOU wait before writing?


You can ask us a Question of the Week by clicking on QOTW in the upper part of our website and leaving us a comment. We try to answer Questions in the order they are received, unless something is really pressing.


17 Responses to “Question of the Week: Waiting Before Writing”

  1. Renee April 23, 2010 at 7:22 AM #

    Love all of your responses!!! This is the perfect QOTW for me, because I’ve always struggled with abandoning one WIP for the sake of a newfangled plot in my head. I think the only time that’s ever worked out was with the novel I’m currently revising. I guess waiting and letting it simmer really it best in a lot of cases!

    • Julie Eshbaugh April 23, 2010 at 8:36 AM #

      I relate to what you say about abandoning a project for a fresher idea. I used to do that constantly! That’s why I’ve developed this system of testing out a new idea, I guess. It helps me figure out if something new is really better, without having to completely abandon the current WIP.
      Thanks for your comment Renee!

  2. Christina April 23, 2010 at 8:22 AM #

    Well, I’m glad to hear that a lot of you wait a long time before writing (5 yrs sometimes). I have a great idea that I want to start writing, but I just keep waiting, changing things and developing things in my head. And it worried me that I might never start writing it, just always think about it. Has that ever happened where you just never wrote one of your stories, you just always thought about developing it more and more, and then just never got around to writing it?

    • Julie Eshbaugh April 23, 2010 at 8:41 AM #

      Hi Christina! Great question!
      Yes, that has happened to me. But I always figured that if I never “got around to it” there was a subconscious reason. On some level I didn’t think the idea warranted the devotion of putting it on paper. Other times I’ll remember an idea I had years ago and think, “Maybe now is the time for that one?” Then I start the process all over again!

    • Kat Zhang April 23, 2010 at 9:05 AM #

      I have that exact problem right now! I’m one of those people who can’t know what’s going to happen when I start writing a story, because then I lose motivation to keep going. So I’ve had this great story stuck in my head for over a year now, but because I already know how it’s going to end–and most of its sequel–I can’t be bothered to actually write it down!

    • svonnah April 23, 2010 at 10:27 AM #

      The solution, I’ve found, is to start mapping out the plot on paper, in writing. Mapping it in your head is one thing, but it takes on a life of it’s own once you’ve actually committed it to paper.

      • Kat Zhang April 23, 2010 at 11:56 AM #

        That sounds like a good idea. I’ll definitely try it!

      • Christina April 23, 2010 at 4:25 PM #

        Thank you! I will definitely try that. Because its all I think about and I really want to start writing, but then when I’m sitting at the computer, its like I lost the nerve to write and don’t know what idea I should start with first. But commiting it to paper definitely seems like that would help me see where and what I want to start at. THANKS!! 🙂

  3. Link April 23, 2010 at 8:52 AM #

    For me, it’s the time between idea and writing can depend. For the first trilogy I wrote, it was a year or two between idea and writing, while with my current book, it was about 10 minutes. I can go from one extreme to the next.

  4. priscillashay April 23, 2010 at 8:57 AM #

    argh, I wait…because I feel bad neglecting what I’ve already started. Since starting my MS WW I’ve had tons of ideas. I’ve written down notes and characters name and basic plots to remind myself..but I don’t do any actually writing.

    I keep thinking I should finish/edit WW before I move on or I’ll keep moving on and never come back to editing it. And there’s been a few plots that have been nagging at me lately…namely the next two in the series after WW

    • Biljana April 23, 2010 at 4:12 PM #

      I’m like that too, actually. I feel guilty writing somethng else before finishing what I’ve started (unless I don’t like what I’ve already started) and I’m afraid that if I do it, I’ll neglect and then give up on my current WIP.

      And actually about a year ago I DID try it, and the reverse happened; I started neglecting the new plot because I kept wanting to go back to my current work, to the point where I stopped it completely until I would feel ready to write it. In the meantime, it’s stewng and developing in the back of my head.

      I think it’s something you just have to test out on your own; I feel like everyone’s different in that respect. So I guess just try it. It wouldn’t hurt. If it doesn’t work for you go back to what you’ve been doing

      • priscillashay April 23, 2010 at 6:03 PM #

        haha, the same thing happens to me. Recently on my blog I made a “little announcement” about not writing until the semester finished because I didn’t have time….

        Then, a bunch of ideas and dialogue and descriptions popped into my head the next day 😦 My characters can be very, very evil when they want…talking when I don’t want them to..

  5. Rowenna April 23, 2010 at 9:41 AM #

    Great question! For me, this has recently been more a question of whether I want more than one project going at once. Finishing one project kind of forces me to let the other(s) ferment! I could very easily be someone with twenty things going at once but never finishing, so I’m trying for one at a time. But–I can make notes on things I want to do in the future. That’s allowed 🙂

    I have found that letting the idea brew awhile is helpful–I can weed through how I feel about the characters, formulate something resembling a plot, and have a rought map of where I’m going before I ever put pen to paper for even so much as an outline. And that’s a great place to start for me 🙂

  6. Kayleigh April 23, 2010 at 10:55 AM #

    As I read your answers, I though “I never wait. I get the idea and just start writing.” By the time I reached the last answer, I realized that I do have ideas for books that I haven’t started writing yet. However, it’s not because I want to let the idea grow, it’s because I don’t have the time to write another book. I’m already busy writing one at the moment. Incidentally, I got the idea for the book I’m writing then started writing. I then added two things I’d written before that were completely different. Then I didn’t write for ages. Reason? I was busy writing another book.

    Most of the time, though, if I don’t have anything on my plate, I get the idea and start writing. I don’t let the idea grow and invent characters and their background or anything. I’d say it’s because my novels start with a sentence, not an idea or a character.

    • Biljana April 23, 2010 at 11:24 PM #

      …Well I’m jealous! I can’t have the first sentence if I don’t know who or what is involved. When I try without it, it always just turns into stereotypical romantic comedy intros lol :P.

  7. ajpanarelli April 23, 2010 at 3:38 PM #

    Ugh, this stuff kills me.

    I find writing about my writing to be super helpful. Just taking notes about the characters, and the plot, or the story’s world, or themes is a good way to develop the idea. It becomes a living document. When you look a few weeks or days later, you can go right back into the notebook and cross stuff out or move things around or build ideas until you’re ready to sit down and bring it to life. When I finally sit down to start, the novel is sometimes completely different but stronger.

    In terms of other stories, usually an idea for a novel just whacks me in the face. Again, I go and write it in my notebook so I don’t forget, but try not to think about it until I have the time and creative energy the new story deserves.

    Anyone else totally loving springtime?? 😀


    • Vanessa April 24, 2010 at 7:29 PM #

      I was actually going to post about certain things that editors do when going through manuscripts, and one one them involves jotting down character names, their descriptions, places, etc etc. I think it’s a great way of organizing your thoughts, and of keeping track of everything!

      And I am LOVING spring and all the sunshine!

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