Sound the trumpets! Ring the bells! I finally finished the first draft of the first three chapters (approximately 16%) of my new book. I've been terminally distracted the past few months, and sitting down to write has been like volunteering for a root canal. I've found dozens of other things to fill my time.
Another part of the problem has been my process. I'm a plotter by nature, so the idea of leaping into the creative unknown terrifies me. To beat back the paralysis of fear, I start every book with fairly detailed character profiles and a chapter-by-chapter basic outline. The outline isn't too detailed--just a paragraph for every chapter. It's mainly to prove to myself that I have enough story for an entire book. My books are all about the same length (82K-85K words), so I plan for 20 chapters of 20 double-spaced pages each. Some chapters may end up a bit shorter and some a bit longer, and I might end up with one fewer or one more, but that's the basic structure.
My process is similar to that of writers who use note cards, except I put the outline in a single document I later manipulate at will. I usually have several plot points in mind, along with a rough idea of where they fall in the story, so I begin with those, assigning them to a chapter. This process continues until I've used up my initial ideas. That always leaves a few holes. For example, I'll bop right along for the first four or five chapters, then have a blank until Chapter Nine, when I know there has to be a turning point. If I don't already know what that is, I figure it out. Then the same thing happens again for a few chapters in the second half until the three or four chapters at the end.
As I write, more ideas come to me, and I insert them into the outline where I think they should go, knowing I can always move them later. During the course of writing the book, some ideas will expand, taking up more space than I'd originally expected, and some will be discarded. After six books, I trust myself to ultimately fill all the blank chapter headings in the outline, but those blanks still make me nervous at the beginning.
One reason this book has been slower to get off the ground than others is that, despite my preliminary profiles, I had to get to know my characters as they began speaking and interacting with each other. My heroine in Child's Play is a newly-minted PhD in Child Psychology who had made brief appearances in the first two books in the series, so I thought I knew her. However, a visit to my daughter last month and a couple of days spent around her friends who are PhD students gave me new insights into their deeper feelings and the things they worry about. When I got home, I had to stop and go back to the beginning of my manuscript to correct and strengthen my heroine. The upside was I found I'd written some stuff I really liked. The downside was it took an extra week. Fortunately, I don't have and editor or contract breathing down my neck, so however long this book takes is how long it takes. It's more important that I get it right.
Of course, after I devoted more time and space to proper character development, I realized I had shortchanged the suspense plot. Time to go back and plant a few clues. After all, it's always something!