When a new idea strikes

Sometimes I think of new books or other projects as these huge peaks looming up in front of me for a long time, coming closer at the speed of a prairie schooner crossing eastern Colorado. I'll see it coming, ask myself if I'm ready to tackle it, make whatever preparations I need to do. I might draw a map. I might fill up notecards with character information. I might spend weeks or months brainstorming how these things fit together. I might make an outline (sometimes I do, sometimes not, but in the big spectrum of how much planning a story gets, I do tend to be more of a planner, at least enough to have an idea of the shape of the story I'm telling).

For awhile now, I've had a couple of ideas for stories that my son especially would like. Middle grade sort of books as I've paged through the books he races through. (And read some of them at the same time myself--we like to race each other with certain books, most recently with Lemony Snicket's Shouldn't You Be in School? He always wins. Maybe because he takes the book to bed with him and leaves it in his bed once he falls asleep...)

One of those two ideas was getting some of the usual planning treatment, and I was thinking of tackling it during NaNo this year. My thinking was that it would be the first in a longer series (since series are pretty much all he reads), with at least an idea for a handful of short-ish books. I really like the concept and some of the ideas I have for developing it as it goes, more SF than his usual fantasy, but I think he'd still enjoy it, and it'd be all set for my daughter in a couple of years as well. The other vague idea was just way in the back of my mind. For a writing exercise I once wrote the opening few hundred words of what could be a short story connected with that vague idea, but I wasn't enamored of that story start and didn't ever go back and finish it, and otherwise I had no plans for the idea.

Then suddenly about two months ago, the voice of the narrator popped into my head. The boy from the short story start I'd made, though most of the details were different. It was a scene with his dad and a younger sister, and I could hear him so perfectly. Did I really want to work on that then, though? Two months to NaNo, and I could use the daily word count posting to spur me to write it in a single month. Or even a couple of weeks, as Middle Grade books are often shorter. But I had that voice then. If I waited, I wasn't sure I would still have a good grasp of who he was and how he would tell it. So with very little planning, I started writing.

I finished the rough draft just before November. It's short for a novel (I had a lot of other commitments, including a lot of Spire City-related things), but feels a good length for the reading level. My son is anxious to be my first reader for it. So in another month or so, I'll give a quick read-through/light revision and see what he says. It could well be too easy for him. Or too advanced, even as good a reader as he is. I didn't let myself worry too much about that as I wrote.

The main thing, though, is that I just had to run with the idea while it was hot. If I had waited, could I have written the book? I'm sure I could have. It would have been different. Maybe better, but maybe worse. There are still going to be times for me when I wait on an idea, let it gather steam in my mind for months or years, plan and brainstorm and imagine for a long time before I ever write the first word. But with this one, it felt right to get it down now.

(And NaNo? There was no way I was ready to tackle another novel right away. So my focus this month is on writing short stories, something I love but recently don't do as much of as I'd prefer. Already wrote one flash piece, finished another story that was almost done, wrote a poem, and began a new short story. I'm not thinking I'll get 50k words written, as I have a lot of other commitments this month as well, but I'm hoping for at least several solid short stories and a few more good flash pieces as well.)