Unless you are a brand new writer writing your very first story, you will always approach a new idea with some baggage. Whether it’s an enthusiastic email from a beta reader, or an agent saying that they love your writing style but that particular story isn’t for them, or while you wait on submission, or that tricky second book, or a worry about maintaining sales, there is always mental baggage. A backstory, whether positive or negative, worried or hopeful. Writing a new story is never just writing a new story. It’s born out of your emotional situation.
So when you sit down in front of your laptop, how do you put this baggage to one side while you write something fresh? Or do you use that mix of emotions to fuel your creativity? When I first started writing seriously four years ago, one of the most consistent pieces of advice given (along with ‘read a lot’) was ‘always be on with the next project’. Don’t stop and wait for the dust to settle, to see if your preferred agent will sign you, or a particular publisher will buy your story, or if your book will make a shortlist; keep writing. And it makes good sense. Practically and emotionally. You will always need the next one.
I had the privilege to go to Paula Harrison’s masterclass on writing young fiction a few weeks ago and it set me thinking. Thinking about ideas that are ‘fresh yet familiar’. I’ve written a couple of young fiction stories before and my memories of writing them are fun-filled, where the distinction between what’s right and what’s wrong is clear, of worlds filled with magic and wonder. And as I was thinking, ideas started to crystallise; from something my daughter mentioned while I cooked the tea, from something I’d seen on the news, from the realisation that I love our cat despite his naughtiness.
Another tip from Paula was that young fiction should be high concept (ultra-hooky) often with multiple hooks. I look at my shiny, new idea. Yes, it is an easy to explain concept. And yes, it has at least three things that would entice a child to read it. It looks like I’ve found my next story.
So I’m laying my baggage to one side and plunging head first into a new story with all of the fun and spark I had when I first started writing, only now with a pinch of style, a dash of industry knowledge and a developing gut-instinct of knowing a good story when I see one.