What moving to a new city taught me about starting a new novel

Jackson Square, New Orleans

Jackson Square, New Orleans. Home, Sweet Home!

For me, starting a new novel has always been a bit like moving to a new city. I guess it’s not surprising that, for me, beginning to plot and to write a new lengthy work of fiction has often coincided with heading to a new location.

But, how is starting a new fiction project like starting out in a city you’ve never lived in before? The processes for success in each are surprisingly similar.

I moved from Louisiana to Alabama, for college, in 2003, and started my first (unpublished) novel, “Life’s Little Jokes” less than a month afterward. “I also wrote “The Crimson League” in Alabama.

My next stop was Chicago. Well, that move coincided with finishing a first edit of “The Crimson League,” and less than two weeks after that move, I started “The Magic Council” (Herezoth book 2).

As I’m planning to move back to New Orleans–yea for home!–and I’m preparing at the same time to release the final installment in my Herezoth trilogy on May 31, I’m once again embarking upon new chapters in life and in my writing career simultaneously. And I think that’s cool.

Cool, and appropriate.


There are lots of ways starting out on a new fiction project is like relocating to a new and unfamiliar place. Here’s how I’ve found them to be similar, in both good and bad ways.

  • I didn’t know where I was, or what I was doing at first. I was in unfamiliar terrain, a bit unsure about myself and where my adventures would take me. Starting a novel–at least, as a panster–is very much like that. You don’t really know your characters inside and out, not at the beginning. You don’t know where they’re going to take you. You just know you’re in for a bunch of surprises, pleasant and unpleasant (with the former hopefully outnumbering the latter).

If this is you: It’s all right to feel a bit unsettled when you start a novel. Don’t let that discourage you. Just take things one sentence, one paragraph, one scene at a time. Anything at all that you need or want to adjust, you can adjust at some point down the road, so don’t sweat it.

There are no wrong turns: just adventures and discoveries and lessons along the way. Remember, as Tolkien wrote: Not all those who wander are lost. For many of us, writing is all about the adventure. So remember, it’s normal to be a bit disconcerted while you’re finding your bearings. Don’t panic. Have fun, and trust that you’ll learn to find your way.

  • I was on my own. Moving to both Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Chicago, Illinois, I didn’t know anyone before I got there. I was my own responsibility, but eventually I met people and found friends. I got a local support system going. The same goes for writing, which can seem overwhelming at times just because of how solitary it is.

If this is you: Remember, you don’t have to be as alone as you feel you are. Sure, you’re kind of on your own while you’re writing a first draft, but even then, you can toss ideas for plot, character, and structure around with fellow writers in critique groups all over social media, especially Facebook and Google+. You can get a group of local writers to meet regularly in person to discuss your works in progress. And always, you can (and should!) get input from beta readers and editors after you’ve gotten an edit down and fixed it up as best you can before that input will help you improve things more.

  • You’ll meet some awesome people. In both Alabama and Chicago, I’ve met people I will remember and will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. People who have enriched my life beyond measure. People who speak with a Southern drawl and use weird expressions from Minnesota I’d never heard before, like, “ufta.” (I still don’t know what the heck that one’s about, haha.) People who have taught me to be myself, and to accept myself, and to have courage about putting myself out there. In writing, well, you’ll have your characters.

If this is you: Starting out on a new project, I guarantee you’ll meet characters who will change your life forever. Characters who will touch and inspire you. Who will move you to tears as well as shouts of joy. Who will make you feel warm and fuzzy with pride, as well as want to tear your hair out. It’s wonderful. It’s one of the reasons I continue to write, in fact.

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20 responses to “What moving to a new city taught me about starting a new novel

  1. That last one is so true. New people always help give me ideas for new characters. When I moved to Florida, I got a load of new ideas from the people I met while working in a video store. Oddly enough, a retail job or any job that revolves around interacting with strangers has helped me get a better sense of personality quirks and types. Guess the main thing is to simply be social even if you’re scared of your new surroundings.

    • That’s so true, Charles. Be social. Which isn’t an easy thing to do for a lot of writers, including me. It has a lot of life benefits though beyond benefiting writing (which it also does).

  2. I just moved to another part of NYC this week, so this post is right one time, LOL! Maybe I’ll be inspired as you were.

  3. Great post. Yeah, I’m a first time novelist. It really hurt to kill off a couple characters.

  4. Hey lovely, I’ve tagged you in an award!


    Just follow the directions and post on your blog 🙂

  5. New is scary, but it’s also what keeps us growing. Congratulations on moving home!

  6. Insightful post. I hadn’t considered that.

    Awesome Tolkien reference!

  7. That is such an accurate analogy, the only thing I could add is a good strong character, or a good outline can be as useful as a gps in a new city.

  8. This was really interesting to read, also because it is me right now, so thanks for that! Really nice with some inspiration!

  9. Thanks, it is definitely both inspiring and frustrating, but in a great way because it is challenging my writing! And your blog is really a great help! 🙂

  10. Thanks for the encouragement. I love the analogy and having moved to Europe, experienced that solitude and discovery, I think you are spot on!

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