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Backup Plan

by Carolyne Aarsen

I dislike running out of things. When I pull a jar of mayonnaise from my pantry to replace the one I’ve just emptied and I don’t see a second full jar, I get nervous. What if I have a sudden craving to make a whomping huge bowl of potato salad and I use up the jar I just took out and I have to . . . gasp . . . dig into that LAST jar? I need backup.

This doesn’t only apply to groceries. I feel this way about crafting supplies, wool, sewing thread, socks, cleaning supplies, candles . . . the list can go on. I’m not a hoarder. Yet. Everything I have I will use at one time or another. I just like to have, as I said, backup.

I not only hate running out of things, I hate running out of story ideas.

I’m approaching 40 books for various publishers and can still feel a flicker of panic when I sign a contract. What will I do when I come to the end? What if I can’t think of anything. To keep myself from panicking I have found I need at least three more fleshed out ideas, waiting to be used. But how do I do that when I’m supposed to be focused on the three books I have to write yet?

I’ve found a way to deal with this. I’m always collecting. A snippet of conversation, a sermon point, a television show, a part of a movie that has engaged me emotionally. Anything that catches my fancy or makes a connection with me gets stored away as a note on a pad of paper, a file on my computer.

I’m just collecting. Letting my brain wander and sample. Then, even though I am working on a contracted book, I’ll take time away from it to sit with a large piece of paper, a few colored pencils and start gathering my ideas. Some get set aside – maybe for another book, some get retained.

Then I play. I’ll start mind mapping, expanding on ideas until I hit a dead end. Then repeat the process. Slowly the germ of a story comes into play. Sometimes I’ll end up with a character. Sometimes a plot. Sometimes both.

I now do this on three stories at once. This way I can be more deliberate about creating three unique characters and plots as I compare them against each other. Once this pre-work is done, I write out some rough outlines, set the stories aside and relax a little.

They’re not complete, but the ‘girls in the basement’ will dissect and contemplate on them while I’m writing my already contracted and outlined stories Sometimes I’ll go back to the percolating ones and add a few bits and pieces, then get back to my other book.

Then, when I’ve finished my contracted books, I’ve got my three other story ideas ready to flesh out further. I can relax. A bit. At least until I sell these stories. Then I can start all over again.


After moving to the country to follow the love of her life, Carolyne Aarsen, a transplanted city girl, quickly adjusted, raising 4 children and numerous foster children, gardens and cattle. In all of this, she also followed her writing dream. She is blessed to write for Love Inspired and is inspired by her husband, family, faith and community.

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2 Responses to Backup Plan

  1. Carolyne, I love this! Your ideation process sounds so organic and yet methodical.

  2. Thank you. I’ve just adopted your plan. I usually have three or four books roaming around in my head, but I don’t write them down. Now I will!