It’s the age old question everyone asks an author: where do you get your ideas? However, everyone has ideas. It’s really no biggie to have an idea. What people are really asking is: how do you, dear author, get your idea down in writing?
Ah, well, here’s where the magic happens. I’m going to take you through the process, from the moment I had an idea to the point where I shipped it off to be published. Interested? Read on.
Disclaimer: this post is going to be entirely subjective. I can only speak of my own creative process because it’s the one I happen to know best.
First things first: I’m writing this in response to a challenge/homework assignment my editor recently gave, but also to a blog post Dan Cross wrote, asking how to get started with writing.
Harry Dewulf (aka my editor) pointed out recently that there are two myths about authors or artists in general that are both detrimental to understanding your own individual creative processes. The first is the idea that a “true” writer sits down “in a woodland glade with a small entourage of furry creatures at their feet, and the words pour out of them as a fully formed story.” Oh, if only my secret desire to be a Disney princess were to become real! My daughter would also be in constant ecstasy to finally have her wish for a pet spontaneously granted whenever Mommy sits down to write. … Yeah, so that one’s poppycock, okay, fairy dust and all.
The second idea is that you can magically turn into a writer if only you have enough knowledge of literary analysis. So, go buy all the writing books already, read all the advice out there, and cue in the Sailor Moon transformation music because you are gonna transform into magical writer girl/guy, baby, complete with your tiara of literary knowledge, to become a stylish fighter for language, grammar and literary devices. *sigh* If only I had those long Sailor Moon legs after 4 years of literature studies at university…
Case study: How I wrote the On Escapism Guest Post
I’m always on the lookout for
victims book bloggers to pitch to in order to get a review of my book Touch of Iron, and a few weeks ago I thought I’d ask Mighty Thor Jr himself, James Schmidt. He turned me down graciously, because his TBR pile is rocketing on its way to Mars, but then he asked whether I’d be interested in writing a guest post. Sure, said I, and stared at my blank screen for ages.
The problem with guest posts is there are too many ideas, and they’ve all been written before. So what to do?
Walk away from it and do something else, of course.
I mean it! In the week that followed with still no snappy idea forming in my brain, I was getting desperate. But not because of writing. Because the world decided to be majorly fucked up. A shooting in a Florida night club, a knife and axe attack on a bavarian subway, then days after that a shooting in Munich … This time I was staring at the screen in horror thinking, sheesh, you couldn’t make this up. Talk about suspension of disbelief … Faced with a world full of this sick shit, it’s no wonder some people prefer to escape to fictional worlds.
Oh. Oh yes, of course. There was an
idea Idea, I mean.
Now this idea of escapism – I knew it had already been done before by one of our own, the master, the inventor of our genre, J.R.R. Tolkien himself. No innovative, original idea to be sure. But I don’t believe in having “original” ideas or the presumed merit of them anyway. I’m an individual. My thoughts on any given matter will never be exactly the same as what another individual thinks.
Discourse is more important than originality to me.
So I started asking myself questions, thinking up arguments for and against escapism and jotting them down (I’m a list making kinda girl), and re-read Tolkien’s essay again and again. Basically, I proof an idea, examine it, bounce it against the walls of my own mind, while trying to find the key points for why it’s so important to me to have this specific discourse.
Then I do a lot of structuring by hand, i.e. I take a random piece of paper and scribble down my thoughts. You could call this mind mapping, or making a cluster, whatever. I do this because I can see my ideas better when I write them down. And I see coherent structure when I have it laid before me. Like this point, it should go at the beginning. This is my thesis, it must go here. I need this point here, as it fits better with that other reasoning.
Then I write down those key points and add filler sentences.
When it’s all written, I go back and write the beginning.
Then I edit the whole thing. Multilple times. Which translates into: I pretend I’m reading my words for the first time, and I try to find out how to make them flow, smoothen out the rough edges, and take away the tripping stones. Wax and polish as necessary.
Then I think it totally sucks. By now, I’ve come to recognize this as a natural point in my creative process. That time when I hate, hate, hate everything – it means I’ve hit my limit. I can’t improve on my own anymore. The work’s not finished, but I need outside input. (Thanks Harry, by the way.)
Then I work that input into the writing. And go over it a few more times.
Lastly, I throw my hands to the air, and hit send/publish.
And rest in the knowledge that my job is done. I’ve created this unique written thing, I’ve used all the appropriate tools I have to build it, I’ve given it my best shot. And I’m excited because I get to do it all over again with the next idea.
In sum, here’s my creative process streamlined.