This Writing Life: The Book Bible

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When it comes to creating a new book, my book bibles are the most precious things imaginable. They’re not always pretty – in fact, they usually end up looking decidedly tatty – but I protect mine like bejewelled medieval manuscripts.

Last Tuesday, I handed in my 2018 book to my publisher (rah!). There’s still a long process ahead – revisions, line and copy edits, proof reading and more – but the hard slog is done. Although labelling that book a slog is a gross injustice; I loved every paragraph and cannot wait for it to hit shelves.

With that book delivered, it’s time to focus on the next, and this is where my book bibles come in.

What Is A Book Bible?

Every author has a different process when it comes to writing, so I can only speak for myself. The way I operate is that I get struck by a brilliant idea (usually at the most inconvenient time, like when I’m up to my neck in another project and can’t afford to be distracted by this shiny, sparkly new thing) and before it goes flittering off into the universe to be snatched up by some other author, I write it down. Sometimes all I have is a hook or a brief premise, other times it’ll be a synopsis, covering the entire plot, and occasionally it’s as vague as just a character or setting. It varies.

Examples of initial ideas, currently pinned to my white board.

Examples of initial ideas, currently pinned to my whiteboard. Apologies for the pixilation, but I don’t want anyone pinching them!

Now, if the idea has real legs I’ll keep thinking about it and make more notes. Then I’ll either slide these notes into a folder or keep them together with a bulldog clip, and then file that into one of the nooks I keep for this purpose.

My ideas nook.

One of my ideas nooks.

If I’m feeling really excited, I might order some non-fiction books for research or start reading novels with similar themes. I might start actively hunting for newspaper and magazine articles too, and photos of scenery or characters.

If this continues long enough, and my thrill over the idea doesn’t wane, then it’s clear the story is a definite go-er and one I’m going to write. At which point I start a book bible.

What Does A Book Bible Look Like?

Well, like this:

Book bibles for Rocking Horse Hill

The book bibles for my rural set romance Rocking Horse Hill

Yeah, I know. Hardly exciting, is it? But it is, believe me, because contained in these books is everything important to the story I’m going to write.

Mine contain everything from those initial notes, to photographs, draft paragraphs, character outlines, settings, research, name lists… all sorts of weird and wonderful things. They end up loaded with information and scribbles, but apart from draft scenes and names, much of what they contain never makes it into the final book. That’s not the book bible’s point. Its point is to be a kind of stimulus, a physical thing that acts as reminder of all that made me passionate about the story idea in the first place.


Book bibles are vessels of inspiration.

To give you a better idea, here are sample pages from a few of my book bibles, some published and some still in progress. As you can see, they’re loaded with all sorts of things.

Pages from RACING HEARTS' book bible

Pages from RACING HEARTS’ book bible with photographs of its setting. I was going to set this in Dunkeld but have since changed my mind.

Pages from THE FALLS book bible

Pages from THE FALLS book bible – the hero Lucas is a farrier, hence the newspaper article, and the blue sticky note is an important moment between the hero and heroine that I felt really strongly about but never made it into the final book.

From RACING HEARTS book bible

From RACING HEARTS’ book bible. One of the characters is a specialist cheesemaker.

Scribblings from CHASING MISCHIEF's book bible

Scribblings from CHASING MISCHIEF’s book bible

Notes and brainstorming for RACING HEARTS

Scene ideas for RACING HEARTS

Another exampled from THE FALLS

Another example from my book bible for THE FALLS – the inspiration for Dominic’s flash beachside apartment.

I used to use softcover books but they tend to fall apart so I’ve swapped to using hardcover sketch books. Much nicer.

Not Every Book Needs A Book Bible

Stories are weird things. Sometimes my passion for them is so strong they just pour out. April’s Rainbow was one of those for me, as was Santa and the Saddler and Wayward Heart. Novellas tend to not need book bibles because they’re shorter and less complex, and I make do with a document wallet stuffed with notes. These usually contain scribbled scenes and character name lists, and must-fixes for second drafts.

The document file for SANTA AND THE SADDLER

The document file for SANTA AND THE SADDLER

Stories are also strange in that – for me – they form at different rates. I have piles and piles of ideas, many of which I adore and feel strongly about, but not all are ready to be written and some might never be. But if a story has made it to the book bible stage, then there’s an excellent chance it will.

Some Stories Demand Special Attention

I have a couple of non-romance/romantic elements ideas I’ve been churning over for a while now, one of which has just made it from the folder-of-scrappy-papers to the book bible stage. But this particular idea is so special, so different, so make-me-hug-myself-with-glee-brilliant, that I’ve decided it needs a book bible to reflect that.

This is going to be my book bible for Briarcliffe, complete with a matching fountain pen for extra inspiration. Gorgeous, isn’t it? I bet you’re intrigued as to what this one could be about. Sorry, not telling!

My extra-special book bible for BRIARCLIFFE

My extra-special book bible for BRIARCLIFFE

As I said in the opening, with my manuscript delivered, it’s time to start a new one, and that means sifting through my collection of stories that have made it to the book bible stage and seeing which one calls the strongest. Easy-peasy, yes? Err, no. The problem I have at the moment is: they’re all calling.

The examples above are just a few of the stories I have on the go. I have a giant list of books that have made the folder or book bible stage, and every one is a contender.

Which will win? Stay tuned!

14 thoughts on “This Writing Life: The Book Bible

  1. AvatarPaula Beavan

    I have note books too, and box files for when I haven’t had time to do more than scribble or tear an article from a paper, or print out reams of internet info. The story I’m currently writing is one that I began scribbling notes for while writing another. Before I knew it the hand written notes had become handwritten chapters and I decided to just go with it. I’m now 25K in and still can’t stop. The other story will have to wait. Thankfully I stopped at a logical spot and it shouldn’t be too hard to continue when this one’s done LOL

    1. Cathryn HeinCathryn Hein Post author

      It’s such a brilliant feeling when a story you’re completely passionate about comes along, Paula. Glad to here you have one and that it’s going so well. 25K is getting to a nice tally.
      I try to avoid switching between books, mostly because I’m terrified of missing deadlines, but sometimes you need that break to see the story clearer, especially if you’re suffering a saggy middle or other kind of slump.
      Hope it keeps powering for you and thanks for commenting. Always love to hear how others are doing.

  2. AvatarCarol Logan

    Thank you for sharing that,I found it fascinating,love all your books so getting to see some of the process was quite a thrill,looking forward to your new book but am really intrigued about the special one! .Love that bible and pen.

    1. Cathryn HeinCathryn Hein Post author

      Oh, I’m so pleased you found it interesting, Carol. I’m never sure how appealing posts like these are for non-writers so I appreciate you taking the time to comment.
      The book bible and pen for Briarcliffe are gorgeous, aren’t they? The book is from a company called Paperblanks and I have another notebook from them covered in stylised horses that I can’t wait to fill with something special.
      Thanks so much for being a fan!

  3. AvatarJean

    Thanks for that Cathryn. I found it very interesting. I’m not someone who desires to write, I am more than happy to be the reader. ( and keep the bread tin and biscuit barrel full!)
    It is certainly a long process. All the best.

    1. Cathryn HeinCathryn Hein Post author

      It is a long process, Jean, but it can be a wonderful one. It can also be rather hair-tearing but I suspect we authors try to forget those ones!
      Thank you so much for taking the time to visit the blog and comment. It’s very appreciated and I’m delighted you found the post interesting.

  4. AvatarChristine Wells

    Your book bibles are so much more interesting than mine!! I am so intrigued about Briarcliffe. Now I’ll be on tenterhooks until it’s published.

    I always used to use red and black hard cover notebooks for my story ideas until they put el cheapo horrible paper in them and now I don’t like them any more. But I always have one exercise book per story. Not that I ever look at the notes, it’s more to help my thought process as I go along.

    I use Scrivener as a bit of a scrapbook tool now, and it’s so handy to have all those websites on hand and notes about research for when I get those copy edit questions. Used to collage but i haven’t done that for a while. Must pick it up again. Anyway, thanks for the insight into your process, Cathryn, I love seeing how other people work!

    1. Cathryn HeinCathryn Hein Post author

      Ooh, thanks so much for sharing about your process, Christine. So cool you dropped by! Like you, I’m endlessly fascinated by what other authors do. There’s always something to learn.
      I know what you mean about the books helping thought processes along. While I do scribble out scene ideas, really they’re more triggers and the point of it is to inspire. It’s amazing the number of times when I’m ‘having a moment’, as you do (ie stuck), and it’ll be cured by a flick through the book.
      I keep meaning to try Scrivener, and I’ve heard so many wonderful things, but… I don’t know. I just like being able to work with something more physical. It takes me away from the computer, you know?

  5. AvatarChristine Wells

    I think something more physical is far better–it’s just that I am very lazy and Scrivener makes it easy to collect things in my travels through the internet. The physical exercise has that element of play to it that really helps the creative mind. Writing has become such a JOB that I forget to play and have fun sometimes.

    1. Cathryn HeinCathryn Hein Post author

      Yes, that’s a really important point, Christine. Protecting creativity is such a huge thing in this biz. Writing can be really hard work and that’s fine as long as it’s still joyous, but when it turns into a soul-destroying chore, I think it shows in our writing. And that’s NOT a good thing.

      I never really thought about my book bibles as play, but you’re quite right – they are!

  6. AvatarAnne Gracie

    Wow, Cathryn — these are so pretty! I keep notes and files of pics and maps, etc – but nothing that anyone else could really make sense of. I used to make story collages, but I don’t even do that any more.

    1. Cathryn HeinCathryn Hein Post author

      They’re never pretty by the time I’ve finished with the book, Anne! Although I hope the one I bought for Briarcliffe stays as lovely. That notebook is gorgeous.

      Thanks so much for dropping by and sharing how you do it. It’s always fascinating to hear how others work.

  7. AvatarSue Gerhardt Griffiths

    My folders look just like yours, Cathryn. When I began my story writing many moons ago (12 yrs to be exact) I’d grab a new folder for each story I started. Each one, like yours, contain notes, name lists, photos, newspaper articles, etc. They’re all sitting in a plastic container… a see through plastic container so every time I walk past it I’m reminded there are stories that are screaming to be written! One fine day…

    1. Cathryn HeinCathryn Hein Post author

      One fine day, Sue, I’m sure you’ll be able to resist no longer and will pick one of those folders and start writing. If you don’t try, it’ll never happen!!

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