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: What to do? / the creative process
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Apr 16th 2011
I write down every idea I have and every chunk of dialogue on post its and scraps of paper. Then I sit at the PC, throw coffee down my throat and start to write. As the tale starts coming together I start to see where all those ideas and bits of dialogue should or should not go and starting sorting them into relevant piles. It's scary how all those random thoughts are gradually revealed to be part of a coherent whole - it's as if my subconsious actually knows what it's doing!
Apr 18th 2011
My process works in stages.
1: An idea will just sort of come to me. This happens to all us writerly types, I think; you are reading a book or something, minding your own business when, blam, an idea strikes. It might be borrowing an element from what you are dealing with at the moment and tweaking it, or it might be something you've been lightly pondering. I try not to immediately jot down these ideas, instead letting them "simmer". I'll think about them in my spare time for a day or two, looking at various angles of it like possible conflicts, cool factor (be it cool in an intellectual way, visceral way, etc.), ideas on characters, all that.
2: When I feel I have enough meat behind an idea, I'll open up a text file I have with basically brief pitches to myself and write it down. "Enough" meat is nebulous, but it's always different; sometimes, it's a handful of scenes I want to write, sometimes it's a plot or a conflict, sometimes it's character information, and sometimes it is a combination of several. I jot down as much as I can, as well as a guess as to how long of a piece I figure it will be to include all the stuff I want in it. I try not to second guess my gut on that, since that is for the editing process.
3: Before I begin working on something new, I wait for a break in the old. There are times when I will just get stuck on a short story or novella or whatever I happen to be working on. I tend to pick one project as the "main" and have that be the primary focus; I will spend at least some time every day working out stuff for it and writing at least 1000 words a day when able, which is typically four to five days a week. Then, I will either work on another project after those thousand words are done or if I am well and truly stuck in my outline. Getting stuck happens, I suppose, because I haven't developed a way to not be stuck, but I've only seriously been writing for a year.
4: The first step of seriously working on a project is, for me, working out an outline that covers at least a couple basics: How does the story start? What is its conflict or concept? What are some ideas for a resolution? Not all stories have direct conflicts (most that don't should be short fiction, because a lengthy narrative with no central conflict can be tedious if not done well). Once I have ideas for how to answer all three of those, I'll make as detailed an outline as I can, with rough ideas for beats and where they should be placed, as well as any pacing ideas. After the plot outline, I'll put down as much character and scene ideas as I have, then let the two feed off of each other, working back and forth.
5: I start writing the idea when the outline for the opening section (not always scene) is clear. I try to leave the outline open a bit because a great deal of the fun of writing for me is being surprised by how characters or scenes twist in ways I didn't expect as the author and seeing where that takes the story, but I try to have at least an idea of what I want a scene to do. At this point, I'll write from beginning to end, working on fleshing out the outline only for the next scene or set of scenes. I've found if I start thinking too far ahead, I spend more time tweaking an outline than writing.
Apr 18th 2011
6: Once a first draft is done, I start showing it to the friends of mine who I trust as editors. I'll tell them by goal with a piece and let them tell me things in the narrative that detract from that goal or things that are just plain bad, be they overwrought or undernourished or whatever. I try not to think in terms of who would like a piece as I'm writing it, instead focusing on what I want the piece to accomplish and whether I am enjoying it. You can't really account for others, but if you can't find enjoyment in what you've written, it will be hard as hell to pitch it. And a note on accomplishing the piece's goal: Not all of them need to be lofty literary goals. Those are great, of course, but some pieces want to be pulp, some want to be middle-brow, some want to really frame a couple scenes. Each piece is different and functions differently, and part of being a good writer is knowing how to approach these different ideas without applying a mold to them that doesn't fit, which is harder than it sounds. A lot of figuring that out is in the editing process, so try not to sweat it too much while writing.
7: After editing a piece again and again, you eventually need to pitch it. You can revise forever, so it becomes a process of knowing that a piece is, for the most part, solid, functional, interesting, and does well what it wants to do.
Part of the reason why I put work in on other projects off and on while writing my main project is because I am bad with down time. If I am not actively working on a story, I can sit around and dream up narratives all day, because I find it fun. And while you should enjoy that part of the process (ideas are only born once, after all), it's all meaningless if you never write the stories at all. That's part of why I build in redundancy in my process, which allowing space to think up new ideas, jotting down ideas in a central location, writing outlines for a couple projects to keep in the bag, and writing them in the spare time from my main projects. That way, the moment I finish a main piece, I not only have an idea for another piece, but I have an outline, a pitch of the concept, and hopefully some pages already written to ease that transition. I try not to do any work on any project that isn't my main until I hit my 1000 words a day, though, so that I always have forward momentum on my main project. As a result of this, I have 280 pages done on a novel with probably another hundred to go before I'm done, about 80 pages on a novella, and probably 40 pages of other miscellaneous writing. It's not a huge amount, but it is much better than my output before I started taking this seriously.
Another note: Building up the stamina and ability to write lots of words a day takes time. Don't beat yourself up if you really can't think of something after one page. Just keep writing that one page a day and you'll eventually find that you can write a page and a half or two. It's a lot like exercising a muscle; write and you'll be able to write more. Stop writing for a while and it will be hard to write a lot of pages in a row.
On the side, I tend to try to analyze technical issues I have with my writing, like if I feel I'm writing stilted dialogue in general or my paragraphs of narration and description are overwrought or, on the other side, very weak, I'll try to do some technical exercises after my thousand words where I'll pick a weak spot and work on it by writing unconnected scenes and force myself to practice the weak skill. I've been lax on this for a while, so shame on me, but I really should. It helps a lot.
And, of course, you can't write unless you are "reading". That's in quotes because it's more about paying attention to narrative structure and certain technical elements, like cadence, dialogue, descriptions, word choices for certain moods, all that. It doesn't have to be high literature or even a book to be helpful; even watching a trashy TV show can help your writing so long as you are thinking about the technical elements of what went into it. In that trashy CSI episode you're watching, how are things phrased in "tense" scenes as opposed to "relaxed" scenes? How is the transition from unrelated facts to a clear conflict handled? Knowing what something has done wrong is sometimes as helpful as knowing how good things do it right, and you'd be surprised what kind of good technical ideas and lessons you can learn from even the worst of stories. Because, as much as I'm not a fan of Twilight at all, it's appeal isn't magical; people like things for reasons, and those reasons have mechanics that you can learn from. Again, I'm not as good about doing this as I should be, but it is a really helpful skill. You can't write well if you can't understand the mechanics of what you are writing, and you can't understand the mechanics of what you are writing unless you can understand the mechanics of something else.
Forgive me if this was (and probably is) rambling. I'm wired too high heaven on coffee.
Apr 19th 2011
I generally jot down my idea, write a general plot for the story, and then break that down into smaller and smaller bits. If you start with what you know and work backwards to what you don't know...it seems to work, because your brain is a natural storyteller, and will always try to connect the dots when presented with two sequences. Then it's your job to decide whether the connection is plausible enough or not to enthrall your reader.
Basically just what everyone else said already. Ha.
I think a lot of people get scared off writing something because they think they have to do it all at once.
There's nothing wrong, by the way, with just keeping your idea on the backburner and allowing it marinate until you know what to do with it. The story I'm doing right now was in the back of my head for about a year before it really made sense enough to do it. In the meantime you can work on other stories.
Apr 19th 2011
@mercurialblonde: I've had my big story on life support since 2003, and just started writing it this year.
I think the main theme of this thread is that there's no one-size-fits-all solution other than you gotta do the work. Do it every day, and try to stay critical. I write every day over my lunch (at least), and I treat it as a part of my day job--that's what works for me. Keep practicing, and keep experimenting with different processes and methods.
Apr 20th 2011
When my stories get close-mouthed on me, I take them out to the bar, ply them with shots of whiskey and take notes. Don't ask what happens when it's YA. ;) Later, when Story is doing the walk of shame, I hurry up and write before it starts leaving me messages begging for a chance to redact and explain over dinner.
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