Friday, August 5, 2011

Beginnings are beautiful - and dangerous

by April Henry

Like a woman in love with being in love, I like beginnings best.  

My favorite thing is when it’s just me and my idea and no editor impatiently tapping her fingers. There are times when I am under contract but don’t yet have a clear idea of where I’m going, so with every day that passes I’m 24 hours closer to the deadline. Just the thought of that deadline creeping ever nearer dries up some of my creative juices. 

But if I don’t have a deadline, and instead I’ve just had a wonderful idea occur to me, an idea that the more I think about it, the more I sense dozens of tantalizing possibilities, then that’s a lovely time. There is nothing like a bright, shiny new idea. It can do no wrong. It’s like having a crush on the perfect person you only see briefly and on his or her best behavior.  

It can also be too easy to get seduced my a new idea. You’ll be working away doggedly on an existing book, and then wham! You fall in love. Your new idea is full of promise, whereas you have already seen your existing idea walking around in its droopy underwear, scratching its potbelly. 

I’ve learned that even though I’m sure the new idea will be much, much better than my current one, the wise thing to do is to create a new document, write down everything that occurs to me about my beautiful new idea, and then set it aside.  

Sometimes I’ve even had an “affair” book, one that I wrote in snatches stolen from my “real” book. But if you totally abandon your old idea for your new idea, there will come a time you realize the new one is not perfect either.  Plus, you won’t learn how to plow on through the difficult part and get to the other side.  You won’t learn how to finish a book.

I will admit that I have an affair book now, one I’ve snuck off to work on despite having a grueling deadline on a different book.  I’m in the very beginning, the stage where I can brainstorm all I want and not worry if it holds together or even make sense.  


  1. This happened to me, oh, two days ago? I'm plugging away at the official one, but have a new document up for ideas and character sketches, and a few pages in a notebook for when I can't get to the computer. The plan and hope and prayer is that, by the time I've got the official drafted, the new idea will be formed enough to start on right away. This is also more or less how the official one was planned, oh so many months ago. Love the post, very much explains the phenomenon: one of the best parts of being a writer. I agree that you shouldn't abandon something, unless it's really not working.

  2. I like your phrase "affair book"; I can totally relate to it. I came up with an idea for a new story while I was writing a different one, but I made myself finish the first draft of the first story before I started writing about the new idea. But now I have to revise two stories, since I got so carried away with the second one that I neglected that other draft.

  3. Oh no! Now I have a new, racy way to get distracted from my writing duties. At least an affair book won't get me in trouble with my guy!