Sarah Rhea Werner released a podcast about her creative process. That is something I’ve touched on but not completely, so I thought I’d share my process to see if perhaps this might help you discover a process that can help you.
This is by far the longest, slowest process. I keep a traveler’s notebook with me most all the time. I have a notebook in there for my current project, another notebook for random ideas for new projects, and maybe 1-2 more notebooks. Once upon a time, I kept a Bujo calendar in there, but that became too much to keep up with. (I use Passion Planners now.)
You can see pictures of what my little notebooks look like as I pull together character sketches. Not literal sketches, because I’m not that good at drawing. It becomes like an idea or inspiration boards for me. https://quillandbooks.com/2018/07/11/character-descriptions/
Sometimes if I’m caught without my notebooks, I’ll jot a note in my phone with the Google Keep app. (Google Certified Educator here, so I’m kinda biased toward Google products.) I tried Evernote for a while, but I like Keep’s integration with Google Docs. Later, I’ll add the note to my notebook.
What do I write in them besides character sketches? Random stuff. Ideas for the plot, setting, pretty much anything.
Where do I get ideas? Life. Listening to the news, movies, the crazy things my son says or my students. It all goes in my notebooks. I don’t filter any ideas out yet. You never know where that path will lead. Walk down the path for a little bit and see where it leads you.
The Tale of a Story
I find that the best ideas are mashups of more than one idea. Once a student said something crazy like, “What if our brains were not in our heads?” Crazy right? Yes. But I froze. Right there in front of the class. I tried to keep teaching but the thought wouldn’t let me go. Finally, I had to explain to this class why I was acting so weird. I explained to them that this question had spurred an idea. What if memories were stored in our hair? They liked the idea. I pulled out my notebook and we had a brainstorming session right there. (HS Graduating class of 2024 is the group that inspired me.) What effect would cutting their hair have on the person? How would the importance of hair change the culture? So that was one idea. I wrote down the idea and the questions.
I couldn’t write a story based on just an idea. I needed a conflict.
The idea sat in my notebook and in my head for a couple of months while I finished up another project.
When I finally had time to focus on this story again, I sat down with my notebook and tried to answer the questions about how this crazy idea would affect an alien culture. Then I came up with a conflict that would showcase this aspect by answering the question: What memory might a person not want to keep at the cost of all other memories?
Characters came next. I will sometimes fill out a character chart for the main characters–ones that have an arc. (the form is linked at the bottom)
Yep. This is exactly what is going on in my head when I sit down to write an outline.
I tend to outline on the computer for 2 reasons. 1- My hand hurts if I write too long. I can build up endurance, but I’d rather just type. 2- If I wrote it out by hand it would get so messy, I wouldn’t be able to read it.
Once I had the conflict and a character, I could start plotting out my story. I used a form that I made to plot out the story. (link at bottom of this post) I loosely followed that.
With a short story, brevity is key, so I don’t always do every single step. I leave out anything not absolutely critical. For a novel, I might have more than one plotline, so I will sometimes write out more than one of these.
Getting the grandiose ideas on paper the way they look in my head is not easy.
Once I get a general idea of the plot, I start drafting. I don’t worry about making it look pretty.
With this hair story, I wrote a bunch down to get ideas on the page. I decided to write it using flashbacks. That always complicates things….a lot! I actually wrote the two scenes separately then chopped them up and put them together like when you riffle and bridge a deck of cards.
I wrote about my general revision process here.
After writing the two scenes separately, I played around with different size flashbacks until I felt like I had it right. I shared the story with several beta readers to see if the flashbacks were clear and felt right. Based on their feedback, I adjusted the transitions between scenes with a few introductory descriptions to ground each scene firmly in the present or the past.
It was interesting to see the difference in readers. Those who commonly read SFF had no problem with the flashbacks. Other genre readers, had some trouble. I went ahead and made changes to clear it up just because there is no harm in being clear. But this goes to show that it is important to know and consider your audience.
First, let it rest! This will allow you to gain perspective and distance. Then the editing begins. I edit in passes. Well, I try to do that. I’m not always successful because I’m not a one-track mind kind of person. I’m thinking all-the-things all at once.
I have two checklists I use for editing. One I use mostly with my newer writing students. The other I use with my advanced students, my writing peers, and when I’m editing my own stories. These are the things my critique group helps me spot when I’ve gone over my writing 5 billion times and can’t see the mistakes anymore.
The story I wrote about in this post was sent out and rejected a couple times. It was resting for a long time while I was writing my book. Now that the book is almost done, I pulled the story out again and it is out on submission again to a few more places. I’m hopeful that it will find a home soon!
I hope you have been able to glean some helpful ideas from hearing about my process! I’d love to hear about your creative process too, so drop a comment below!
AltGuild Journal (No, I’m not an affiliate, I just like his products) https://www.etsy.com/shop/Altguild?ref=search_shop_redirect