“Story ideas are like seeds. There are plenty of them, but they take careful tending to grow into anything worthwhile.” Sexton Burke, The Writer’s Adventure
I found this quote in a book my husband bought me for my birthday, and it’s been yammering in my head all week. It describes one of my biggest weaknesses in my writing. I have tons of ideas to write stories about, but I get pulled in so many directions—outside of my writing life as well as scattered writing projects—that I always am juggling them instead of focusing on one. While it’s one of the reasons I love to blog, it’s also why you can find me staring at my computer screen wondering what the heck I was thinking when I started a story idea.
My blog, The Lighthearted Dragonfly, is about my life, and I just write about what I experience and observe with my family and friends. It is a piece of my heart, really, so it’s super easy to sit down at the keyboard and churn out what’s going on. Okay, maybe not super easy, but since it’s my creative outlet I feel like I get to express myself without concern about character and plot structure, plausibility and what some unknown future editor would say about it. Although I do try to edit posts so that they’re grammatically correct, the only censoring is mine alone.
With my stories, it is completely different. I see stories everywhere and I have as far back as I can remember. Before I started really writing them down, I would replay scenes in my head that I would make up—like I was watching a movie. I daydreamed a lot, especially if I was in the car by myself with some good tunes. The thing about the daydreaming was that I didn’t have to fill in the missing information. If I liked to make up sassy dialogue or an attention-grabbing first line that was all I had to do. I didn’t try to explain all the things that led my characters to that scene. I never shared my silly daydreams with anyone (they’d think I was crazy!) so these individual ideas and scenes piled up in my head—mostly they were forgotten when I grew bored with them.
Actual writing is definitely not the same as daydreaming or having a great story idea. Writing takes work! Like the quote says, you have to nurture the idea, and, in most cases, flesh it out to the point of exhaustion, only to clip it back to keep it simple. This is where I get in trouble. Because I have this need to know every character’s backstory I find that if I struggle with a part of it, I get frustrated, especially if the character’s personality is radically different from mine. A lot of my characters are different from me, because, as I’ve pointed out before in other posts, I live a stable and not too dramatic life that’s not exactly story/novel worthy. Frustration = Put Aside for Later = Forgotten and Left Behind (aka Giving Up).
So here’s what I’m doing about the whole dilemma of starting ideas and not tending to them properly:
1.) I started meeting with my cousin, who also writes. This has forced me to organize my writings. I can’t ask someone to critique something that is only partially done or has big chunks missing out of the middle of the plot. Just simply having a deadline for when we meet is enough to get me to have my act together. Meeting with Kim regularly gives me purpose in my writing and I’ve been better about committing to a story I’m working on.
2.) I jot down any and all ideas I have—every time I have them. Some are stand-alone, some mesh into another story or blog post. It doesn’t matter, I just get them down so I don’t forget them. Even if it means running from the shower to my little notepad on my nightstand!
If you’re a writer who’s been writing awhile, this probably seems pathetically basic, but it’s the baby steps that have brought me to the place in my writing where I can feel organized and purposeful. Writing down outlines and timelines does not come second nature to me. Brainstorming random thoughts does. I have scenes in my head that I string together. I need the characters to get from one situation to the next, so I fill in between the scenes I know and love with what makes the characters and plot go from Chapter 1 to Chapter 5. It sounds like kind of a sloppy process when I explain it that way, and sometimes my heart is just not into writing these “cement” chapters that glue a story together, but it’s how it works for me. It makes the characters come alive to me when I feel like in some weird way they are guiding the story.
Do other writers out there have a similar process they go through for their stories? Do you use a Bubble/Brainstorming Method? A dartboard? Do you outline the entire story first? Or do you sit down to write and see how the characters lead you? Does it depend on what genre you’re writing in? I’d love to hear suggestions and have others share what works for them, so please share!