Hi. Barb here.

Before starting this post, I looked back, and almost every one of us Maine Crime Writers has written a post about the beginning of the writing process. (And Lea Wait, I’d like to thank you for the ear worm of Michael Finnegan.)

It turns out, we are all over the board on how we begin writing our novels. Some of us have a period of pure research before we begin writing. Some actually wander through the physical landscape. Others write character bios and outlines.

photo2It seems I don’t even approach the task the same way every time. When I started Boiled Over, I mused about my pre-writing thoughts on that book. I had a lot of intentions. I’d thought a lot through. Not so much plot as theme, and what I wanted to achieve for myself and my series while writing the book.

As I begin a new book this month, I’ve done a lot less conscious planning. True, I wrote a synopsis for my publisher back in July. I know the time of year (the weekend after Thanksgiving), the victim and the why of the murder.

But that’s pretty much it. It’s a locked room murder, something I’ve never written. A limited pool of suspects–four couples, eight individuals. I’m sure they’ll all be very interesting when I finally meet them, but honestly, I don’t know a thing about them. I’m just writing. And as each couple turns up on the scene, I’m making them up–on the spot.

I haven’t worked out the structure either, which is a little scary. As things are taking shape now, the body drop is in the first sentence of the first scene and the narrative moves between the forward action of the investigation and memories of the night of the murder. Seems a little tricky, requiring extra care with context and transitions. We’ll see if I can make this work, but so far, so good.

ScrivenerpageThe “story” is one my mother told me years ago. I’ve been carrying it around in my head ever since, certain I would write about it, but not sure how or when. A short story? A novel? Part of a series, or a standalone? Finally all the pieces have fallen into place and I’m ready to tell the tale. I think…

I was on the Agatha Best Contemporary Novel panel with Julia Spencer-Fleming this spring and she said that Craig Johnson, author of the Longmire novels, told her, “You must worship at the Church of 1000 Words a Day.”

So that’s what I’m doing. A thousand words a day. I know plenty of people who write more, but I’m trying not to be competitive about it. First drafts are the worst part of the writing process as far as I’m concerned. Give me something to revise, no matter how rough, and I’ll work twelve hours a day. But setting an achievable goal for a first draft and kind of sneaking up on it seems to be working for me. So far.

We’ll see how this goes. It seems odd that I’m taking this loosey-goosey approach to a locked room mystery, arguably the most structured of the genre, but so far, so good. Or maybe the room wasn’t locked. (Though my protagonist just told the cops it was.)

Wish me luck and I’ll see you on the other side–I hope.

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at
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10 Responses to Begin…Again

  1. Dawn says:

    Love the 1000 words a day idea – it’s a low pressure productive amount. Can I ask what software your print screen came from? Thanks for sharing!!

  2. MCWriTers says:

    Kate Flora, here. I tend to worship at the 500 words a day church in the beginning, but my attendance grows as the deadline nears. On a good day, though, we know that a lot more words get written. That’s just the number we have to reach before we’re allowed out of the chair.

    I use a timer app on my phone that breaks the work into 25 minute segments, with a 5 minute break, which is nice for making sure I get up and walk around from time to time. Otherwise, I’d probably never budge from the chair.

    And I agree that each book is different. Some I jump into. Some I ponder. I usually know where I’m going, though I’m often surprised. Must confess that I love beginning new books, it’s kind of like falling in love, full of excitement and surprises. And endings are a bit like breaking up…I dread them.

  3. Lea Wait says:

    I can really identify with this post, Barb. Especially since I was planning to take 2 weeks of to do marketing, make a quick trip to NJ for a signing and PA for an art gallery opening (My husband’s work is featured) and the really work on .. the synopsis. Then late yesterday my editor called and said – sorry — he needs the synopsis Monday. MONDAY? So guess what I’ll be doing besides packing a suitcase today …

  4. Barb Ross says:

    Wow. That’s never happened to me with a synopsis and I’m glad. I hope you basically “know” the story. Good luck!

  5. Great post, Barb. I love that it is a story you’ve been carrying around with you!

    • Barb Ross says:

      Isn’t that funny? But I often think it’s the stories you can’t forget that are the ones to write about. I admit I don’t keep a notebook of ideas. I figure it’s the ones that won’t let me go that I should pay attention to.

  6. Fascinating post, Barb. I can’t imagine writing this way, but I do know we all have to find our own way. I say do whatever works for you. I tend to do big batches at a time–like 17 K over a weekend. I like big amounts of time to really get going and there’s all this social media stuff we have to do besides. So…we do whatever it takes to get the words on the screen. Best to you in this. Sounds like your characters have a good handle on this story. 🙂

  7. Barb Ross says:

    17K over a weekend? My head would explode…

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