5 Tips on Starting a Writing Project

Writing a novel is a daunting task.

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quote by Stephen King

Starting with nothing but an idea and a blank page, you have to come up with thousands of words to tell a story. Hours of brainstorming, world-building, drafting, and editing are before you, and it’s one of the scariest places to be.

I’m at the beginning right now. I’ve had my idea for a few months and have been researching. I feel like I’m getting very close to the point when I can actually start writing the novel. And I’m remembering just how scary the beginning can be.

So today I wanted to share with you my tips on starting a writing project. These tips are what seem to work for me at the beginning of the daunting task of writing a novel. I hope something in here resonates with you and can help you tackle the beginning of your own writing project

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I don’t think anything is scarier or more exciting than a blank notebook.

1. Let the idea simmer.

I don’t like to jump in right away once I have an idea. I always find that letting the idea sit in the back of my mind for a while helps it develop. It’s also important when you first think of a story idea to not talk about it to anyone. The story idea will never be as special and exciting to you as when it’s new and only yours, and talking about it with someone else can make it lose it’s specialness, thus making it less exciting to you.

2. Read/watch all of the comparable titles.

After thinking through my idea for a while, I make a list of every book and movie related to it. These comp titles help you see how other authors and filmmakers take on a similar topic, and these titles will also be used down the line when pitching your work to be published. I then spend a month or so watching all of the movies and reading all of the books to help me further develop my own story idea.

3. Immerse yourself in research.

The next crucial step is to immerse yourself in the necessary research for your project. A lot of the advice I see out there is to just start writing and make a note to come back to it later when you need to research something. That might work for some genres, but when you’re writing something more research-intensive like historical or science fiction, I find it best to do all of your research up front. Doing this will help you be better-informed about your topic and I’ve found it helps me come up with story and plot ideas as well.

4. Get to know your characters.

This is probably the most important step before starting a writing project. Stories are all about the characters. And if you don’t know your characters well before you start writing, you will feel lost and the story will lack direction. Of course, characters will surprise you and you’ll get to know them better through writing the story, but you still need to learn about them before you start.

5. Breathe.

Lastly, take a deep breath. You’re about to spend weeks/months/years with these characters and this story. So take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you can do this. And start writing.


What tips on starting a writing project would you add to this list?

A Writing Resource You Should Be Using: Hoopla Digital

A while back I wrote about falling in love with audiobooks and how listening to books is a great way to fit in more reading in your life. At the time I had just discovered the app Hoopla Digital—a resource my library lets me use for free—and I had no idea how life-changing this app would be.

You can sign up for Hoopla with your library card, and then you have access to thousands and thousands of titles. Hoopla has ebooks, comics, movies, music, and—my favorite—audiobooks. And the best part is that you don’t need to wait for books like a traditional library or even some digital libraries. There is a limit to how many you can titles you can borrow per month, but you can download and enjoy right away!

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This is what your Hoopla library looks like. I always have a bunch of audiobooks checked out.

As writers we’re supposed to read as much as we write. This lets you know what’s out there so you can keep current in your genre. Reading also inspires you and shows you how to write.

But it’s hard to find time to read that much. And when I do sit down and read, I sometimes feel guilty I’m not using that time to write.

Even though it’s difficult to fit in all of my reading hours, Hoopla makes it so much easier with their vast library of audiobooks. I can read books by listening to them so much quicker than if I sat down and read print copies. And Hoopla lets me fit in reading easily throughout my day. Some of my favorite times to listen to audiobooks are when I’m:

  • getting ready in the morning
  • getting ready for bed
  • cleaning
  • crafting
  • doing puzzles
  • coloring

I’ve been able to read so much more and I love it.

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Some of my favorite books-the Selection series-are all on Hoopla. And my favorite part of the app is that I can listen to books at different speeds, like 1.5x.

This is a writing resource you should definitely be taking advantage of if your library provides it.

How to Get Ideas: Sermons

Writers are always asked how they come up with their ideas, but it’s often hard to know exactly where a story idea comes from. Ideas seem to come from anywhere and everywhere, and they sometimes come when you’re not even trying. But for those who are newer to writing and for those who are having trouble figuring out what to write next, ideas can be hard to find and you might have to force yourself to come up with them.

That’s what this blog series is all about—how to get ideas and how to develop stories from those ideas. So far I’ve written about what if questions, titles, prompts, and first lines. Today I’m going to take a look at sermons.

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How to Get Ideas: Sermons

The Bible is full of so many incredible stories, and many writers have drawn inspiration from it. Some of my favorite books inspired by the Bible have been C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series and Kiera Cass’s The Selection series. The Bible can be an amazing resource to find inspiration for your writing.

But I’m also inspired every week by the sermons I hear in church.

If you go to church regularly, every week you get to hear amazing sermons that explain the Bible and share incredible stories. Sermons expand on different stories in the Bible, then connect them to your life and something you can be doing to follow Christ.

I don’t want to be a Christian fiction writer, but I do want my faith to infuse everything I do and I want to use my writing as a way to serve the Lord. To serve God with my writing without making my stories overtly about God or Christianity, I like to take themes from the Bible or sermons and infuse them into my stories in a more subtle way.

For example, the book I had been working on for the past couple of years was a science fiction book set in a world without written language. The whole book stemmed from my what if question of What if there was no written language? I was really intrigued by this question. However, the story just lacked passion for me because, while I was growing in my faith every day, I couldn’t find God in my story.

That changed when I heard a sermon about making your life about God, not you. My pastor talked about how we live to serve God, nothing more. And it’s not about you but it starts with you. And suddenly it clicked: my two very selfish narrators who only wanted to help themselves and not their world were going to learn this lesson in my book. And by doing that, even without mentioning God, my book was going to share my faith.

I’m always going to infuse my faith into everything I write because I want to serve God with my writing. And the sermons I hear every week in church are a well of ideas to draw from.

You can use things you hear in sermons to supplement your ideas and help you show God in your writing, like I did, or you can use the things you hear to spark new ideas. The best part is that you get to hear a new sermon each week, and so there will always be something new to draw from.

How do you infuse your faith into your writing? Do you get ideas from the sermons you hear?

My First Post for We Are Beautiful!

Last month I announced that I would be writing for the Christian blog We Are Beautiful, and today my first post was published on their blog!

WAB Logo
We Are Beautiful

I’m so excited for this chance to write devotionals, which I’ve felt God calling me to write in addition to my fiction. The theme for We Are Beautiful’s posts this month is vulnerability with references from Psalms.

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Photo and Graphic by Allison Mims

Vulnerability is something that I struggle with, as I naturally try to control all aspects of my life. Check out my post on their website to learn how I’m working on giving up control and being vulnerable before God. I’d love to know what you think!

Psalm 40
Photo and Graphic by Allison Mims

Give Yourself a Break

Are you burnt out from trying to reach your goals?

Last week I wrote a reflection about how I’m falling behind with my 2018 goals. I discussed how I was going to refocus, since focus is my word for the year. I realized I needed to focus on God and what he is doing in my life in order to accomplish my writing goals. And I took a deep breath so that I could refocus.

But first, I’m giving myself a break.

I’m burnt out from struggling to reach my goals for this year. I felt like I should be a lot further than I was, and I was beating myself up because I wasn’t. So this week I’m resting. I’m taking a step back from my writing work to give myself a reset.

Breaks like these are necessary to keep going with writing. Writing is hard and lonely work, and it’s so easy to get burnt out. It’s especially easy to get burnt out if you’re struggling to reach goals that maybe aren’t the right goals for you or if something happens in life that gets you off track, like dealing with a medical issue.

I switched writing projects recently, and so am only starting to begin the research on this new book. So of course I’m not going to reach the goal of writing a draft of my book this year. And that’s okay.

Taking this week off has helped me to reset my mind. It’s helped me to relax and refocus, which is exactly what I need to do if I want to write this new book.

However, just because I’m taking a break from most of my work, it doesn’t mean I’m not working at all. I’m just doing relaxed work. Some things I did this week are:

  • Build a 1000 piece puzzle while listening to audiobooks, both fiction and research books for my work-in-progress.
  • Kept up on social media, but only spent half as long online as usual.
  • Had coffee with a writer friend and discussed the themes in my work-in-progress.
  • Not write out my normal daily to do lists on my white board.

I still managed to work this week, but I did so in a completely relaxed, no-pressure-to-get-things-done way.

And because I did this, I feel ready to get back at is next week and refocus.

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The bookish puzzle I built this week.

Are you feeling burnt out too? Give yourself a break. Keep your mind active, but rest. Build a puzzle. Go for a walk. Talk over ideas with a friend. Relax. And get back at it next week.

Refocus

This is the first week of July, which means we’re at the halfway point of 2018, so I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my goals for this year and see how I’m doing.

Instead of making new year’s resolutions, I choose one word to guide me for the year. 2018’s word is focus, but so far I feel like I’ve done everything but focus.

I started this year off by wanting to focus on writing and on God, which would help me accomplish my writing goals of writing a draft of my work-in-progress, writing a query for that book, and reading 45 books.

While I’m right on track with my reading goals—having just finished my 24th book this year (53% of 45 books), I still haven’t written much this year.

The main reason for being behind on my goals is that I switched novel projects. I shared why I switched book projects in my post Write Through It. Doubts about my work-in-progress and medical issues had been keeping me from working, but then God finally answered my prayers by both telling me what to write and by finally healing my eye.

I’m so unbelievably thankful both that my eye works again and for this beautiful story God has asked me to write. And focusing on God by praying for these things is what eventually brought me healing and this new idea. But I feel like I need to take a step back at this halfway point in the year to take a deep breath and refocus.

That’s what 2018 is supposed to be about for me—focusing.

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Philippians 3:13

I need to put my past behind me. All of the pain and suffering. All of the self-doubt. All of the unfocused and lazy days. I need to focus on what is ahead.

Even though I feel like I’ve wasted half of a year by not producing anything, I haven’t. I’ve learned and grown. I’ve prayed more and trusted God with more of my life. I’m doing research for my new book project. I’m getting ready to write this book that I have a feeling will change my life.

So this is me refocusing:

I’m taking a deep breath.

I’m telling myself it’s okay to not write an entire book this year.

I’m reminding myself that I have to focus on God before I can focus on anything else, because without him our lives don’t mean anything.

I’m reminding myself that like my book project I am a work in progress. But that’s okay. I’ll get there.

Exciting News!

I have some exciting news that I wanted to share with you all—I’m going to be writing for the wonderful Christian blog We Are Beautiful!

WAB Logo
We Are Beautiful

For a long time I never wanted to write nonfiction. I thought that truths were better shared through fiction, and so I made that my focus as I grew as a writer. Writing this blog over the past two years has been fun though, and it opened my mind to nonfiction.

And a few months ago I felt God stirring a new dream and calling in me—to write for him directly. Not just through my fiction, but through Christian nonfiction and devotions.

The thought of doing this one day made me both excited and scared. I had no idea what I was doing with nonfiction. And I wasn’t sure if I had something important to say with my own life and with my own stories. Before, if I wanted to say something, I would create a story and a character to tell it. Now God was asking me to write about me, and that was terrifying.

But I could feel him stirring me to keep growing and learn how to do it. I started paying more attention to the devotions and Christian nonfiction I was reading. Like I do when studying fiction, I had to learn how to look past the story to see how the piece is constructed and what makes it work. And after a few months of studying, God has opened a door for me.

And that door is We Are Beautiful. WAB is a community of women that inspires one another and celebrates true beauty. With events, groups, and the blog I’ll be writing for, WAB helps women of all kinds find their true beauty in Christ.

I’m so excited to be writing for them. You can check out their website here, and I’ll let you know when my first post is published to their site!