I’ve been writing in The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences for almost five years now. Five wonderful years. Every time I sit down at the keyboard to reconnect with Eliza, Wellington, Bruce, Brandon, and the crew, it’s like reconnecting with old friends from high school and college. No time has passed. We’re cracking jokes. It’s a real synergy that—I won’t lie—is a tad addictive. I feel as if this world has become my port in a storm, an oasis in the desert; and I genuinely love these people and this world.
Here’s the thing, though—Pip and I are starting something new. Amidst a flurry of D.I.Y. projects undertaken while the Boom is away at summer camp, we started a title that is a complete departure from steampunk. Yes, that is what people know us for, but a solid writing career isn’t based on hitching your wagon to one series and then you’re done. Do you want to be the writer known for that one series, or do you want to have one of those careers where people love your work no matter what world it is set in? This is why Pip and I have taken those first steps in developing a new series, and I am scared shitless.
But this is what writers do, right? Well, yeah, we write. If truly blessed, we write cool shit. If most fortunate, we write shit that is so badass it winds up on a random Tumblr feed. Starting a new project still has a sense of intimidation around it. You are staring at that blank screen with the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night…” being the only words you’re wanting to type. I was told by a good friend of mine in the business that writers usually just punch themselves in the nuts, and that clears your head enough to start—
Wait, what? Writers don’t normally do that?
Goddammit, Scott Sigler…
That barren wasteland of the empty page is the proverbial middle finger to an author, and this is one reason why we regard ideas as being cheap. You want an idea? Shit, I can give you an idea! I can give you a notebook of wild and wacky ideas, all of which sound like the next freight train up the book charts. Ideas really amount to only two things—jack and squat—until you strap yourself into a chair and start writing; and this is when ideas make it only so far before you discover “Wait a minute, this isn’t enough for a novel, let alone a series…” or you might find out that your great idea is dramatically or irreversibly flawed. It’s a lot like reading a book and feeling that sense of dread on reaching the halfway point. This is a bad book, and there is no sign of it turning around. You then either soldier on to the end, or when you hit that moment the book closes. For good.
Yeah, starting work on a brand new property is like that.
So, as I said before, scared shitless.
And this is a good thing.
That little itch of fear is your inspiration, your muse, reminding you that with this first step you are venturing into the badlands of writing. This is undiscovered country. Finding the Titanic. The first close-up of Pluto. Even with your notes in reach, you have no clue what is ahead, and if this story is not told (and yes, that could happen!) then you have invested a lot of time and a lot of effort into nothing…
…which really isn’t true because my steampunk comfort zone came from an idea that I had started and was well into developing, but then Pip came along, said “Hey, while you work on the novel, why don’t you and I write a steampunk prequel to this world? We can podcast it!” and well, if you have listened to any of the podcasts or read the novels, you know what happened next. So even if your great idea is a total dud, you could very well find yourself heading down another path, on a whole different journey. Even from my failures, I’ve managed to find an idea that took me somewhere.
Take that first step. Start writing. Get the idea going, lest it remain nothing more than an idea. Once you start writing, characters will also take shape. Then they start speaking, both on the page and in your head, and as you write, go on and take notes. These will be your reminders of moments you need to maintain the pace of your story. It’s more than okay to be scared when starting a new project. In fact, it’s natural.
But punching yourself in the nuts? No. Not natural at all.