It’s been a long time since I wrote a brand new story idea. I’ve been in revision land a looooooong time. The blank page can be awfully intimidating, writing something rough and misshapen and new, especially after working on something that has years of polishing, and I found myself avoiding some serious butt-in-chair writing time. So I started procrastinating…with purpose.
I was a history major—I LOVE researching before writing. In college, when I had a paper due, I would spend weeks in advance reading articles and books, surrounding myself with them, organizing the sources, before finally putting pen to paper (yes…I wrote first drafts [because yes, there were multiple drafts] of my papers longhand). I once maxed out my university library card and checked out 99 books in total for my capstone research paper. And when I returned them all in a literal suitcase, the front desk manager blinked at me like I was a crazy person…before offering me a job.
All that to say, I really love research. And it’s an excellent, productive way to avoid writing, especially when I’m still in the preliminary brainstorming stage. Jumping in and writing right away is a surefire way to get myself stuck and stumped and frustrated. Maybe so much so that I’ll abandon that story idea entirely. Instead, I read as much and as widely as I can in preparation, really indulging my curiosity and entertaining any and all story directions it could take. Any nugget could spark a future plot twist or prove handy while world building!
So this is the germ of the WIP idea I got a few months back:
I usually start with some broad topical non-fiction, to really fill my brain on the topic, fill in some knowledge gaps, and inform the direction of future research and reading. In this case, I dove into some murder and crime solving non-fiction. Murder lead to a more specific curiosity about murder with poisons:
And some plant non-fiction:
Then I go broad, fictional, and multi-media—movies, TV shows, podcasts, any age-range—to survey what’s already been done on the topic, common themes and what might be familiar to readers thanks to pop culture:
I love when I can settle down to watch a movie and call it research. It feels so…multitasking.
Then I macro my research further; specifically, I start reading middle grade books that would be adjacent to the story I’m imagining, maybe shelved together or recommended to the same reader. Mostly, I’m trying to triple check that the story I’m imagining hasn’t already been done. I’m looking for a little inspiration. I’m procrastinating in its purest form and pleasure reading. But in the back of my mind, I’m also hunting for potential comp titles to be used in a future pitch.
Along the way, I keep a notebook handy, to jot down any ideas or snippets of scenes I might dream up. It starts to fill up pages, a really useful treasure trove to dig into once drafting starts.
As the research (aka, procrastination) continues, the story takes shape in my head and the excitement to write it starts to overwhelm the anxiety about drafting. Once I finally dream up the opening scene, know where the story starts, I know it’s time to stop researching and write.