The number one question I get asked is, “How do you come up with a story?” Quickly followed by, “How do you turn that into a novel?” We won’t talk about the umpteen million times I get told, “I have an idea for a book”. I used to think authors exaggerated that. Who tells another person, “I have an idea for you to do something in your profession, and oh yeah, it is so good I could make money off of it, but I am giving it to you for free”.
Regardless, I thought I might share with you, my process.
Ideas come from a lot of places while reading, watching TV or a movie, or about any time during the day. They come from about anywhere. The two biggest places I receive revelation for stories is in the shower, and through conversations with my significant other. I kid you not. The other day we were looking at some art together and talking about the current political climate and *BAM* an idea hit me. I won’t go into the idea because I haven’t written it yet.
What then? How do I turn a single idea, or image in my head, to a fully fleshed out novel? Good question. Let me tell you, it isn’t easy. Before I buckled down and put my shoulder to the wheel of writing, it would appall me to throw out words. I wouldn’t do it. Eight thousand words in and the story wasn’t working at all, I would ride that train right off the cliff! What I had to learn to do was to write, and not be afraid to start over. If you’re not feeling the story in your bones, then you need to think about tossing it out and starting over.
For With the Dawn I had several incarnations of the characters, the story, even the setting. In my first attempt at writing it, I didn’t want it to be in anyone city. I tried to keep it generic. Halfway through the book, I realized that I needed to be specific because of certain magical things that happen. I love Seattle decided to use that.
My point is that you have to be willing to start over. Do not fall in love with your first draft, if you’re serious about writing, you will need to get serious about drafting. I promise you that you will know the best version when you write it, and it ‘s rarely the first one. When we brainstorm our minds go for the easiest things to grasp, it is called low hanging fruit. In nature, that is the easiest fruit to pluck. In our heads, we have a lifetime of novels and movies and it all coalesces with our imagination. The first thing that bubbles up to the surface will be the thing we’ve seen the most.
What next? I write. A lot. A lot a lot. Four to five hours a day, twenty minutes at a time, totaling three to five thousand words each day. Some days it’s magic, some days it’s garbage. There isn’t anything you can do to replace this one simple task.
Notice that nowhere did I mention outlining. Because I don’t. Everyone has their process, and for some people outlining is their jam. For me, it is a deathblow to my creativity (See my earlier post). You have to be in a creative mode to come up with the best ideas. I can’t do that while trying to figure out what should happen next. When I’m writing the story flows out of me like a river. I know what happens next because it feels right. Weird, I know. Remember, I’ve spent my whole life telling stories, reading stories, and reading about storytelling. It is the number one subject at my house. Ask my friends what I talk about the most and they will say, “Movies, TV, Books, Comic books, and storytelling”. You have to live and breath it. I think that part is true for most authors. Writing is not a sometime thing, it is an every time thing.
That is about it. I find an idea, I write about it until I think it can be a whole novel, then I start writing. Sure, pantsing isn’t the most elegant way, I have to create backstories on the fly and fill out the background as I go. This means I have to be extra careful in the editing phase to make sure my continuity is correct.
The one thing I want you to remember is that all of this means nothing if you aren’t willing to write. You need to be hungry to write, you need to be willing to put aside all your hobbies and time wasters, and focus on this one thing. Trust me when I say, those things won’t mean as much to you, as finishing your first novel. They certainly won’t mean as much if you manage to publish it through a publishing house. The same goes for when you make money on your work, your words, your imagination. There is no feeling quite like it.
In the words of some of my favorite podcasters,
You’re out of excuses, go write.
All the best,