:: Starting a new novel is never easy. At some point, you just have to write the first word.

Yesterday, I started a new novel. Technically, this is my third novel, if you don’t count my novella, which would make it my fourth. I have another novel that I’ve drafted too, but, and this makes no sense, I wanted to write this new one, too. I couldn’t let it go. Or, perhaps better stated, it wouldn’t let me go.

So, over the past 2 weeks, I just wrote down all the ideas I had about the characters and the story. I made a list of all the possible challenges that the novel faced. As any writer knows, a new book sings a siren song—”Me, write me! I’ll be easy! Ignore the work in front of you, and write me!”

And then I started the chapter outline. I’ve never written a full chapter outline in advance of writing a novel before. I did write a chapter outline before I wrote my novella, in part because I was on such a tight deadline. Deadlines, I’m convinced, are the handmaidens of writerly organization.

Before the first word was written, this new book had a structure, a timeline, and nearly all of the chapters outlined. I’ve begun drafting the first 3 chapters—which I can do synchronously because of my outline. And I’m not allowing myself to go any further than that until I have the rest of the outline in hand.

Metaphor Alert

See those tomatoes up there? I’m sitting at Jessee’s in Carrboro, one of my favorite coffee shops. (I actually thanked them in the acknowledgements in my last novel.) See how organized those tomatoes are on that tray? Jessee’s sure fit a whole lot of tomatoes on there.

Yet, at the same time, each tomato is organic and unique. That photograph my metaphor for the work I’m doing now. Outlining doesn’t (or doesn’t have to) remove spontaneity or organic growth from your writing. But it does ensure that you can fit all the tomatoes on the tray.