A Writer’s Life: Starting From Scratch

Fact: It’s been a long time since I’ve written a story from scratch.

There’s this odd mix of fear and excitement when starting a new book. If you’re a writer, perhaps you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, what’s your secret?! It is both incredibly exciting and hugely daunting to start a new book, especially if it’s speculative fiction. You’re not just creating the plot and characters, but the entire world around them.

This means you have all the freedom in the world. You’ve wanted to write a story about a blind giraffe that is shot into outer space and finds itself on a new planet with funny looking aliens? Go for it. Might want to tailor that book towards kids, but go for it none-the-less.

Fact: Being a writer is hard work.

This shouldn’t deter you from writing. First time writers… seasoned writers… I’ve met a lot of them. You might be surprised to hear that I’ve met international bestselling authors (I’m talking mega-mega-mega authors) who have been so incredibly nervous about their new book. Will people like it? What if it sucks? What if it doesn’t sell?

You’re only as good as your last book? Perhaps that’s true. Personally, I think that’s a horrible standard to set yourself as a writer. There are authors I love, their books have meant so much to me over the years, and occasionally there will be a book of theirs that I read that makes me go ‘meh, not my favourite’. But that’s ok! It’s not necessarily that they’ve written a worse book. It might be that that particular story just doesn’t resonate with you. Or you’re not in a good reading mindset.

We authors put so much pressure on ourselves. The journey to being a full-time author is a long, hard one. It can take years. Sometimes it never happens. I know NYT Bestselling authors who still have part-time jobs alongside their writing, because their books don’t earn them enough. If you want to be an author: that’s a reality that you’ll have to face. Don’t let it deter you. Please, don’t.

Imagine your favourite book for me. Now imagine if the author of that book had let doubt or fear or stress or the knowledge that they might never earn a proper living from their work stop them from writing your favourite book. And now imagine a world in which your favourite book didn’t exist?! Didn’t impact your life the way it did. Didn’t inspire you. Didn’t save you.

What a crappy world!!!!!!!!!

Fact: Being a writer is the best work.

Here is a list of some of my favourite books:

Peter Pan by Sir JM Barrie
Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Illuminae Files by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

Poison Study was a big inspiration for my own published novel, Relic. I can’t imagine living in a world where Relic didn’t exist. A world in which I wasn’t a published author. A world in which I hadn’t achieved my biggest dream. Now I know it’s hard work. I’ve experienced it for myself. But I am so glad that I’ve been given the opportunity to start on this journey. One day, I would love to be a full-time author. For now, I’m just happy to be working towards that dream.

Having worked in the book industry, I know just how many books are out there. How much noise there is. How much ‘competition’ there is. Now I use the word competition lightly because there’s something special about the writing community. It’s different to other creative communities. Writers boost each other up. They help each other. So when I say competition, I merely mean that there are so many books out there to choose from that the readers have almost too much choice! This is a good problem to have as a reader. Perhaps not a good problem as a writer.

Picture a bookstore. The books that are in any given bookstore make up the tiniest fraction of books that exist in the world. I used to work at Booktopia and I would walk around our warehouse and see hundreds of thousands of books. Most of those books I had never even heard of. So what you see in a bookstore are what I might dub the ‘lucky few’. And even they won’t be in there forever! Unless you’re JK Rowling or GRRM. That’s a whole other level of success.

Fact: I’ve digressed.

I’ve digressed. I know. This post was meant to be about starting a story from scratch, just one of the many challenges an author faces. But I love it! I’ve spent most of this week just… staring and sitting and thinking. Yesterday I was kicking the ball for my dog in the backyard and if anyone had been watching me, I was almost in a trance. And then I’d start talking to myself – trying to work out a particular scene and character. It’s strange work!

The biggest problem I’ve faced so far is deciding what the ‘big bad’ is. I don’t want to give too much of this new story away (partly because it may change completely) but there is going to be a big bad. Not a person. Not an organisation. But more of a… being. And deciding what that thing was going to be was a huge roadblock. There was no way to go forward until that was decided.

Fact: I love Google.

I had some rough ideas. Then a thought popped into my head the other day. I started googling and found exactly what I was looking for. I’ve finally decided what my big bad is. I still need to work out the nitty gritty but I’ve got a much clearer picture in my head of what it is.

And… FREEDOM! Now I can start the nitty gritty planning. Not just the big bad, but all my characters and how they’re going to fit into the story. And the plot. Gosh, just that little thing known as plot. That definitely needs work.

One thing about being an author is the risk of getting FAT. I’m serious. The snacking is at an all time high. I feel like I’ve turned into Comte de Reynaud from Chocolat, in that scene when a tiny piece of chocolate lands on his lip and then he gorges himself on the entire chocolate display.

No one is judging you Comte. Get yours.

Fact: I should do some planning today but I’ll likely garden instead.

Starting a new book (for me, at least) is a sloooooow process. A few new ideas each day, perhaps. A scene. A character’s arc. Their features. A potential romance. Who knows? Right now I’m looking at the monstrously large hill that is the actual planning and going… maybe I’ll just sit and have a picnic at the base of this hill for a while.

A million years later…

I have to take that first step up the hill. Writer a character profile. Figure out the plot. Decide on how I’m going to communicate the theme successfully.

This is what I need. My own personal Shia LeBeouf standing besides me screaming JUST DO IT!!! I used to have a screensaver on my old laptop that, when it went to idle, had the words ‘You Should Be Writing’ flash across the screen.

Fact: I want to be Jay Kristoff when I grow up.

I will write it. Don’t worry. I know I will. Why? Because I love writing, simple as that. I love creating new characters, new worlds, new plots. I’m looking for new ways to excite my readers. To devastate them. I was talking to my friend about it last night and I mentioned a particular character and I went “… maybe I’ll kill them off”. My friend’s reaction was like “… nooo Bron!” because she knows I’m turning into Jay Kristoff. He loves to devastate his readers too.

So that’s enough procrastinating for now. I have a huge to-do list today, including working out the nitty gritty of my big bad. I promise.

~ Bronwyn xo

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