Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ten Tips for Starting a New Novel : My New Year's Resolution

            You know how people at holiday parties find out that you are a writer, and rush to tell you a great idea that they would write -- if only they had time? But you could write it for them? For free?
I always say "thanks, but I already have something in mind." After all, if we don’t have things to say and stories to tell, then we wouldn’t be writers, right?
Except this holiday season, I didn’t have anything in mind. I just didn’t want to write someone else’s story. I want to come up with my own. My resolution for 2014 is….to start a new novel. 

Usually I have a plethora of ideas, but not this time. I may have a few fancy words (like plethora), but not enough of them to string together. This gap in my creativity could easily be attributed to chemo brain, but there is also the fact that I spent so many years perfecting What A Mother Knows, I’m not sure how to top it. 

You’d think I could just write something silly after all that. Instead, I want to really care about my next project. So does my agent. And my writer’s group. No pressure, but what am I working on now?

Vacation! That’s right, time to rest and refresh. Banging your head against the keyboard only gives you a headache. If you can’t go on vacation, check out this gorgeous sunset over the water and pretend you’re there. See? Already you are using your imagination. 
Now, it’s time to sign off from Facebook and lock the refrigerator.


 My first novel, 66 Laps, was inspired by a bestseller that I thought I could improve on in a unique way. 
My second, Wife Goes On,  sprang up practically overnight. 
My latest, What A Mother Knows, was prompted by a combination of events that lingered on my mind for years....
This time, I'm going to have to work at it. 

 Here’s the plan:
1.     Read novels. It’s not procrastination, it’s research!
2.     Brainstorm a list of new ideas, however lame.
3.     Dig into files for old abandoned bits and pieces of stories.
4.     Eavesdrop everywhere you go - for character insight.
5.     Make a list of what you liked about those novels, those old bits, those overheard conversations. Pinpoint the element in each that makes it compelling.
6.     Think. This is the hardest part, since there’s no proof of progress. When you are done thinking, let your mind wander.
7.     Keep a pad by your bed for potential epiphanies. It can happen!
8.     Take a walk or a bubble bath and let your mind wander.
9.     Play with titles.
10.  Try again tomorrow.

If all goes well, we’ll be writing again soon.  
If not, let’s start over at #1: Read more novels. Especially novels by my fabulous Girlfriends! 


 Leslie Lehr is the prize-winning author of What A Mother Knows (plus five other books), essays in the NYTimes and Huff Post, and a handful of produced screenplays. She teaches in the Writer's Program at UCLA, moonlights writing query letters, and is the Novel Consultant for Truby Writers Studio.


  1. I love any resolution list that starts with "read more books." :) Great plan!

  2. Great post, Leslie. I really needed to hear that someone else was struggling with their next novel! Congratulations on you success, and best of luck with the next novel!

  3. Leslie, It's funny you mentioned chemo brain. After five years of working on a novel with probably a thousand disconnected pages, new starts galore and so forth, I googled 'radiation brain' to see if I could lay my difficulties on that perch. Found chemo brain stuff ... decided that perhaps going through something as truly difficult as a so-called life threatening illness, in and of itself, does tend to use up the energy we might devote to dreaming...anyway, I love your resolutions..and I think reading more is especially helpful.

  4. Any plan that involves more reading and letting yourself have that time is a good one.

  5. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the cover of your new novel!

  6. Well, not NEW--I meant Wife Goes on! Great to spend time with you this weekend.