Ian McEwan recently told The Guardian his motivation for writing novels. “Ah, the dopamine moment is finishing them. It’s, you know, when you’re thinking you’ve got it to where you want it to be.”

You’ll never hear anyone say this about starting a novel. If finishing a novel is like reaching a blazing summit, then starting a novel is like groping about in the pitch dark of a cave.

My last post ended with the following phrase: Oh…and I’ve started writing my second novel.

That sounds easy, flippant even. I need to dispel that notion.

You know that feeling you have when you finish reading a novel you’ve loved? That feeling of melancholy, of waking from the dream knowing you’ll never again read those words for the first time?

Starting to write a novel is this on steroids – minus the sweet tang of melancholy.

A new project requires conjuring an existence in a new universe, new constructs – new approaches and outlines, new research into a foreign body of knowledge resounding with new voices and customs. It is like entering a room in a new city and beginning the long process of determining which of the characters milling about will form into your circle of friends, and which you should avoid.

At first it is only the other writers who have written about the worlds you wish to explore. They are your first guides in this place. You hope that characters will begin to form as you read (and write), and that those characters will be kind enough to show you the story in what, for now, looks like a barren, forsaken, and foreign land.

This is what it is to be a writer looking for a story.