Why Writing Is More Than An Idea

Writing is something I love to do, but that doesn’t mean it always comes easily. I hear a lot of people say, “I could never be a writer because I just don’t have any good ideas.” Honestly, a good idea isn’t even half the battle of writing. I come up with ideas all the time. The simple act of standing in line at a grocery store and overhearing an interesting conversation or seeing a little girl in fairy wings and purple rain boots can be enough to spark an idea. The difficult part is conveying that idea on paper.

There is this notion, especially in movies, that writing is this romantic endeavor. A tortured genius sits down in a room and pens the great American novel in one sitting, probably with a feather pen. I mean, do you really think Shakespeare didn’t revise? He just sat down and wrote many of the most recognizable and beautiful quotes without much effort?

“Full fathom five thy father lies, of his bones are coral made. Those are pearls that were his eyes. Nothing of him that doth fade, but doth suffer a sea-change into something rich and strange.” – The Tempest

And Jane Austen wrote the first line of Pride and Prejudice in a moment of pure inspiration?

“It is a truth universally acknowledge, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

And Raymond Carver perfectly ended his short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” in one try?

“I could hear my hear beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”

Not likely.

Writing is a seemingly never ending process of writing, revising, rewriting, revising, rewriting again, revising...you get the idea. For some, though, there is work to be done before this cycle can begin.

 Get it? Because it's from The NeverEnding Story? Get it?

Get it? Because it's from The NeverEnding Story? Get it?

For me, I have to start with outlines. If I sit down at a computer without an outline, I won’t be getting any useful writing done. I need to have a general idea of where my story is headed. Even if the outline is just a few sentences it can be a huge help to me.

I start by figuring out what the catalyst for the story is. What does the protagonist want? What are the problems they have to overcome in reaching this goal? Are they going to be successful? It’s a pretty basic formula, but understanding the beginning, middle, and end of your story can help to fine tune the way you think about it. For example, it’s like finding the edges of a jigsaw puzzle before working on the middle. Putting together the border gives you a framework for how the rest of the puzzle will fit together.

After answering those questions, I start to put together my cast of characters and figure out which role each of the characters plays in the story. For me, this process involves a lot of free writing (free writing is a writing exercise sometimes for a specific amount of time, where you write without any pre-existing notion of what it is going to be about). When trying to understand my characters, I like to free write as if I am that character and I’m writing a journal entry. I’m constantly surprised by how much information I learn about my characters through this exercise. You’d think that since the information is all coming from my brain I shouldn’t be surprised, but something about this exercise in particular helps me to get out of my own head and be someone else for awhile.

From this point on, my process (prior to actually starting the book or story) is just a repetition of these two things, going deeper and deeper every time until I feel like I’ve reached the point where I don’t have any plot holes and my characters are fully fleshed out.

Although, having this fully formed outline with well thought out characters doesn’t always ensure that that’s how the final story will look. It doesn’t even ensure that that’s how the first draft will look. My ideas are constantly changing and being reworked while I’m writing, so having an outline is always helpful, but it in no way ensures a straight path from outline to finished product.

Now, I want to say that I am no expert. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and I have read an innumerable amount of books, plays, and short stories, but I’m still unpublished. I’ve never written anything longer than 16 pages, let alone an entire novel, so my writing process shouldn’t be lauded as the way to write a book. It’s just my way to write my book.

Hopefully this was interesting or helpful to someone out there, and hopefully it will help all of you non-writers out there avoid a few of the #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter (really, though, check out that hashtag. Some of them are pretty bad). I’m sure I’ll have more advice and such to share as I continue on the path of writing my first book, so follow along on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and all of those social media things!

So long,

Mallory