What was the moment like for you the first time you sat down to type out your book of fiction? Did you write that first sentence and then the story took off? Was that first sentence the most difficult to write? (As it has been for me.) Or, by the time you sat down to type, had you already sculpted the protagonist and all her qualities in your mind so you were equipped to build the plot?
I'll be honest: I find that the first 25k words of a book are the toughest. I know that some people struggle with the second half...they lose momentum and run out of ideas, which is why so many people have half-written novels tucked away in the archives of their computers, but for me, starting out is the hardest. Because it just seems SO DAMN DAUNTING. That, like, from this blank page, a novel will emerge.
But, on to your question.
No, I didn’t (and don’t) just sit down and start writing. Both times, I had a pretty good idea of at least the first half of the book, as well as the characters who would be in it. I really like to come up with a loose plot – and I say loose because a lot of things change once I start diving in, ie, in TDLF, one of the main love interests wasn’t even an original love interest at all, and I’d planned to have a different character fill that role...but when I started writing, things just fell into place organically – and spend some mental time with my characters before I start writing. I think that if you don’t do that, you’re prone to writing rambling chapters without enough plot because you’re sort of feeling your way as you go. And that doesn’t lead to good writing. (See: my first draft of my first novel!)
So rather than force yourself to write, which, by the way, is still a good way to exercise your fiction muscle, I’d instead focus on your key character and what you want to do with her. What’s her story? What are the conflicts that she might be dealing with? Is she a go-getter? Ballsy? Complacent? Is she happy in her job/relationship/life? Etc. Spend a little time kicking that around, and then the writing will come easier, I think. In fact, after I get to know the characters in my head, the first line and the opening scene come to me pretty easily. I'm guessing the same will be true for you.
So readers - what's your process? Do you sit down and write or take some time to craft a background story before you begin?