The 10 Things I Must Have Before I Start Writing a New Book

As a follow-on from my last post, which listed my Top 10 Tips To Help You Get Your Book Written in 2014, this week is all about the things I must have as a writer before I sit down to begin writing a new book. I hope that by sharing the things I need, it might help you to work out your own list of must-haves. If you know what you need to have with you before you start writing, then you won’t waste precious writing time hopping up and down to assemble them. You’ll have everything ready to do, so that every minute of your writing time is devoted to just one thing: Writing.


If my brain is thinking about the fact that I have to plan a new writing course, or that I need to write a blog post, or that I have to send out invoices then I can’t concentrate on my writing. I use a monthly planner to write down a list of all the things I have to do that month. Then I transfer each task onto the calendar section of the planner. That way I know everything I need to do will be done at its allocated time and I can concentrate on writing during my scheduled writing times.


As it says in the image at the bottom of this post, if it’s not scheduled, it doesn’t get done. Book writing time into your calendar just as you would any other task or appointment. And stick to it.


There is nothing more distracting to writing time than having new email messages or new Facebook notifications pop up on the screen when I’m writing. I make sure I have 2 hour blocks of writing time scheduled and that for those 2 hours, my wi-fi is switched off. It helps with tip 1, focus, too. Give it a try and see if it makes you more productive too.


It only needs to be a germ of an idea. For instance, If I Should Lose You, my second book, started out with me wanting to writing about a nurse who was an organ donor coordinator. I had no plot in mind, just that one small idea. Writing time is all about turning that small idea into paragraphs and pages and chapters.


You need somewhere to collect your scene, plot and character ideas because these will come to you at any time. You want writing time to be about writing, using the ideas from your notebook, rather than using writing time to generate those ideas. Any time you have an idea, jot it down in your notebook. Have a notebook in the car, or use the Notes App on your phone, have one in your bag, have one beside the bed. And transfer all those ideas into the one book on your desk before you start writing. Then you have a list of scene ideas ready for writing.


I never used to brainstorm. I was very much a “pantser”, someone who wrote an idea into a story and who was never quite sure where the story was going until the first draft was finished. But when I wrote my third book, a historical fiction set in 1920s New York, I did a bit of brainstorming of plot ideas before I started writing, and also after I had written a few chapters. I found this so useful; I wrote the book more quickly, I felt more confident because I knew where the story was going and I enjoyed the process much more. In case you haven’t heard of it, Scapple is a brainstorming app from the makers of Scrivener and I blogged about it here.


Sometimes in the early stages of writing a book, ideas for plot, scenes and your characters don’t come as quickly and easily as you need them to. You can find yourself sitting down with no idea what to write, which is what we want to avoid. Have a couple of books of writing exercises on your desk. If you don’t know what to write, do a writing exercise to get some words flowing. Next week’s blog is all about how I use writing exercises to generate scenes so keep an eye out for that if you’d like to know more. I’ll also be giving away 2 week’s worth of writing exercises to help you out.


I wrote my New York book in Scrivener. It was the first time I had used it and I fell in love with it. I’ve written about why here. So now, when I begin writing a book, one of the first things I do is set up my Scrivener project so I’m ready to go. And I set up a Word Target for the manuscript and a daily word count so I have something to aim for.


I can’t write if my main character doesn’t have a name. I usually find my main character’s name comes to me easily, and when it does, it always allows me to see my character more vividly, and thus to write about them with more certainty.


For me, it’s a cup of tea. Others use different forms of inspiration to get them in the mood: music, chocolate etc, but I need something hot and herbal and I’m ready to go. My other creative prop is a book by another author that resonates with me for the voice or the themes or the characters. I always have this on my desk inspiring me and encouraging me as I write, and I read sections before I begin writing to get me in the right imaginative space.

How about you? Do you have a list of things you need before you begin to write? Are any of yours the same as mine? And have I inspired you to know and understand what your must-haves are, so that you can have them all at the ready the next time you sit down to write?


  1. I couldn’t write without tea, Natasha. It’s part of my process; I write, make tea/think, write… and on it goes. Earl Grey, not herbal 🙂

  2. Yes Earl Grey tea for me too ladies and sometimes coffee. Thanks for the writing tips Natasha. I’m going to lock in a writing schedule and turn off the internet during writing time. It’s the only way to avoid procrastination and distractions.

    • Good luck Ingrid – I’ve tried to leave the internet on and discipline myself not to look but I fail every time so from now on, I turn it off and get so much more done.

  3. Penny Walker

    I also need to let my family know my writing schedule so that they know when to stay away from my study and leave me in peace.

    • Yes, that’s a very good point, Penny. Everyone needs to know when your writing time is so they know not to disturb you. For some reason, family seem to like nothing more than to come creeping into the study when they know you’re writing. They are almost as distracting as the internet!

  4. Love this … Agree with them all but swap tea for a glass of wine occasionally!

  5. Whoopsie

    What, in your experience, is the difference between the storyboard function of Scrivener and Scapple? Can’t the storyboard in Scrivener achieve what Scapple does or does Scapple simply do it better because it’s a specialty product?

    • Hi Whoopsie, great question. By the storyboard function in Scrivener, I assume you mean the index card view or the cork board view, whatever words you use to describe it? For me, Scapple is about brainstorming a book before I start writing or while I’m in the early stages of writing, say up to the first 10,000 words.

      I use Scrivener’s cork board in a very different way, mainly while I’m redrafting and editing. For my first draft, I just try to get the story out and don’t worry too much about the order of everything. Then when I’m redrafting, I’ll go into the cork board view and really look at the trajectory of my plot – where are the moments of conflict, where are the quiet moments, how are the subplots weaving together and how do I need to change the order of the scenes to achieve a better balance of conflict, quiet, subplot management and character development.

      So Scapple is an idea generation tool for me and Scrivener’s cork board is a tool that I use to help me see the trajectory of the whole story after the whole story has been written, and to easily manipulate and move scenes in the story around to get a better trajectory. Hope that makes sense!

  6. Whoopsie

    Yes! Makes perfect sense. Now I see the difference between the two. Thx ㋡

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