I always find it interesting to see how other writers work: how we’re different and how we’re similar. So today I thought I’d share the process I go through to get a finished story.
Step one: The Initial Seed
Ideas come to me one of two ways.
The first type of idea comes to me when I’m reading or thinking about something (or talking to somebody about something, which is the same as thinking about it). These might not be an actual story with a plot. They may be more of a concept that’s been on my mind that I want to express through a story, a plot point or character I want to include, or even just something stylistic that I want to try out.
The second type of idea starts out as a prompt, perhaps for a contest or perhaps just something that caught my attention. (My A-to-Z stories and Whimsical Whatnots, both of which I’m definitely still planning to continue, count in this category because they’re still prompts even though they’re of my own devising.) In this case I usually take a little while, say 5-15 minutes, to actually brainstorm ideas. These ideas tend to be more well formed from the beginning, but still go through the rest of the process like normal unless there’s a looming deadline, in which case I attempt to speed it up.
Step 2: Incubation
After I have an idea I like I write down the most important parts of it and then leave it in the back of my mind for a bit. Every once in a while I will come back to it. I’ll mull over one aspect or another or maybe read a bit about something related to it to get new ideas. Over time, the ideas gain new aspects and lose old ones and slowly become recognizable as actual stories, although they sometimes no longer resemble the initial idea. This step can take a while, but can also be sped up if I choose to focus on the story more proactively. However, if I try to force it and get it out quickly I may miss something that would have come to me by chance, perhaps when I’m reading something unrelated a couple of months later, so I prefer to let it develop more slowly even if it means slower output. At least for the ideas that matter most to me.
Step 3: Hatching
Eventually, I get to a point where I know an idea is as formed as it will get without more input from myself. At this point I may do some actual research or I may be ready to write. I think a lot of people have trouble ever feeling their idea is ready, wanting it to be perfect before they put it on the page, but I always get to a point where I know that it’s time. It’s not that it’s fully grown, but that it looks much like it will when it’s grown and it’s ready to take on the world.
Step 4: Nurturing
Now this is the step I have trouble with. As soon as I start writing, my internal editor tells me that it’s terrible and it’ll never be good and I come up with all sorts of excuses to put it off. I need to keep reminding myself that this isn’t supposed to be its final form. That it still needs more love.
Step 5: Growth
Almost there, but still so much work. This story is incredibly needy and frustrating, but you love it more every day. At the end of this step your story will be all ready to go out into the world alone. Fingers crossed!
And there you have it: my process in a nutshell. Incidentally, although my visual art pursuits are more focused on gaining technical proficiency at the moment, I have had a couple of creative ideas and as far as I can tell they follow roughly the same process. What’s your process? Can you identify yourself here, or do you work completely differently?