I'm not sure how many authors sit down with a blank page (or a blank mind), and start thinking about their next book from scratch, but I'd guess it's almost none of them. We all have folders full of half-finished stories, bits and pieces of novels that went nowhere, great ideas we never bothered to develop, wonderful short stories which editors weren't smart enough to snap up and publish ...
It's not wasted effort, though. In fact, all this stuff is essential to me, because THAT'S where I get my ideas from. Not just the ideas, but the situations and the oddball characters who will be struggling with all the problems I'm about to unload on them.
This passion for raw material is one of the reasons I've participated in NanoWrimo over the past three years. Some 'real' writers turn their noses up at it, but not me. You get one month to bash out 50,000 words without a peep from your internal editor, and that 50,000 can produce a nice rich vein to mine later. (Looking back, I believe the only thing I used in Hal 4 from my 2005 effort was the surname of one of the characters. Everything else was dropped or edited out during rewrite after rewrite. But it was a GOOD surname, and I still have the other 49,999 words to use in the future.)
The point is, there's no harm in writing for the sake of it. It's much easier to build a bridge if you've just spent a year making steel beams and rivets, rather than a year tinkering with the plans.
The same applies to ideas. I keep a folder for each Hal novel (they go up to 8 at the moment), and when I get an idea or a situation which might suit one of them, I open up the relevant file and paste it in. Will I use all the ideas? Certainly not. But at least I'll be able to pick and choose.
Which brings me to the plot of Hal Spacejock 5. I was writing a book called Hal Spacejock: Legacy back in March 2004, when the publisher signed me up for the first three books. I thought I was going to use Legacy for the current Hal book (No Free Lunch), but I was wrong. I also thought I'd use it for NanoWrimo 2005, 2006, 2007 but I was wrong there, too. (Hence eight Hal plots.) Instead, the idea has been bubbling away for the past four years while I worked out who the antagonists might be, how the story might unfold, and how Spacejock and Clunk get caught up in it.
I think I'm ready to tackle the Legacy plot now, although I'm still fond of the artist plot and the military plot. So, I'll take a couple of pens and a clipboard full of blank paper, and I'll spend two or three weeks scribbling furiously at all times of the day and night. Some of it will be ideas, some will be snatches of conversation or situations, and all of it will help to shape the plot outline. The question is ... for which book?
Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)