There’s something about hanging a new calendar in January that signals a fresh start. It’s a clean slate, a chance to start over, and reveals twelve months of exciting potential. But I’m also a writer with a book coming out this year, so the change of the calendar also triggers a little fear. Suddenly, “next year’s” deadlines, the ones that seemed so far away, are shockingly near!
My 2017 calendar started to fill with writing and production deadlines, conferences, and appearances, several months back. Almost without exception, everyone I work with takes time out over the holidays, and then restart in January with heavy demands that don’t ease until summer. It makes the coming months my busiest, but it’s also my most creative time of year.
In the lull over Christmas, a quiet time with few commitments, an idea for a new book usually surfaces. It’s as though in putting aside the writing, editing and other tasks that are part of my daily routine, my mind is free to explore. There’s always one idea that lingers longer than the rest, and it almost always becomes the backbone of a story. So, while January might bring a busy schedule focused on the current novel, a new mystery is simmering in the background.
And when inspiration hits, I take full advantage! I write scenes that have no home, some of them a thousand words or more, others a single sentence or two. Sometimes, a character will come to mind, triggered by a person I’ve met, or someone I’ve seen who intrigues me, so I delve into their fictitious background, to create a new antagonist or ally for Alex Graham. I keep a notebook for late-night ideas, and a sketchbook for hastily drawn images and photos that stir the imagination. It all helps, because unlike the calendar, a blank page can be hard for a writer to face!
There’s nothing quite like staring at your computer screen, with its crisp, white page and struggling to come up with that first sentence. Many authors create a detailed outline before they write single word, but I write the story as it comes to me, so those early scenes that are but random snippets of a mystery, become my starting point. For the most part, none of these words make it into the final story – most don’t make it even as far as the first draft – but the ideas themselves, often serve as the first thread of an intricately woven plot, and propel the story forward.
The hours spent on character development are even more valuable, because by the time I sit down to write my new mystery, I feel as though I’m getting to know someone to whom I’m already been introduced – that first awkward meeting is over with, and I’m free to dig deeper into the character’s background and personality. The photos and images I collect along the way, almost suggest scenes for these characters too, and help my story evolve into that crucial first draft.
So, bring on the new year with it’s fresh calendar and the next mystery waiting to be written – I’m ready!
Published: Pulp and Mystery Shelf, January 18, 2017