The First Draft: Post 1- Digging for The Big Idea

Archaeology must be a tough career. I mean, those lads/ladies spend a lot of time digging. They dig, and dig, and dig and I’d imagine that most days the only treasures they find are some raggedy old shopping bags, a used condom, and a broken bottle.

If you think I’m being facetious, I’m not. I’m very grateful because most of what we know about the human race and the history of the earth is thanks to them. That they continued to go to work every day and come home most evenings with nothing more than a sore back and dirty fingernails. Their tenacity, passion and their faith are what drives them to do the work that they do. Where would we be if they hadn’t bothered looking beneath the soil because it was too much hard work? How many pieces of the puzzle of our past would we be missing now?

Every novel starts with an idea, but where to find it? For me, the job of uncovering ideas for stories is similar to the work of an archaeologist. Like an archaeologist, you must be committed and you must have faith and you must keep digging. Oftentimes you end up uncovering the literary equivalent of a well-buried dirty nappy, but sometimes you’ll find a gem: something precious, something rare, something significant. If you just let the earth lie, you’ll never find anything of substance.

Coming up with the big idea for your first novel might come easily to you. For me, it emerged after a number of weeks of committing to a daily writing practice. The idea for my novel started out, like all ideas, as a faint silhouette, something that had no discernible shape or immediate merit, but it was an idea that I couldn’t ignore. I had to write it down.

It began life as a short story, but as I wrote my protagonist, I started to realise that his story couldn’t be told in 3,000 words. There was so much more to him than I’d anticipated. The more I wrote him, the more he revealed to me, and the more compelling his story became. After a few days, I found that I couldn’t think about anything else but the journey of this character. Even when I was carrying out mundane daily tasks, or sleeping, my thoughts were never far from his story, and my brain was whirring away quietly and discreetly in the background, shaping it.

Whether his story will be as compelling to other people as it is to me, I don’t know. Whether I am yet capable of doing the idea justice, I don’t know. All I know is that I believe in Tommy’s story. I know it has the potential to be part of a really great novel. And I would never have found it if I hadn’t carried on digging.

I believe that if you keep writing, you’ll find that big idea for your novel. When it comes to you, you’ll know. You’ll know it’s the one because you won’t be able to stop thinking about it. It’s an incredible feeling, something like falling in love. Being in its company will be effortless. And like a person in love, you’ll look forward to spending time with the idea, allowing it to take you on a journey of numerous magical paths (and dead-ends) as it reveals itself to you.

Over to you: What inspired your big idea? Did you have to dig for it? What advice do you have for an aspiring novelist who can’t get off the blocks?

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My name is Catherine Day. After practising law for many years, I've decided to take the leap, leave law temporarily, and write the novel I've always wanted to write.

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