Okay, I get this question a lot from people and I figured that I should write a post to answer it. First, before I get started, this is just how I write. I am a firm believer that there is no write or wrong way to write as long as you are writing in a way that allows you to get your words down. But maybe something here will be able to help you with that.
The first step to writing for me is the spark. This can be several different things, but it is always the core that my story is written around. Sometimes it is a character, other times it is a setting or an world that wants to be created. A single word can even be the spark. Every book I have written, not published, has started with a spark that got the wheels turning and my fingers itching for a pen, pencil, keyboard, blood, just joking… mostly, to start writing.
Build the Fire
This is where I think there is the most contention between artist and also between writers and academics. You now have a spark and as long as you don’t lose it, it shouldn’t go out, but you need to build that spark a home. That is the bones of your story. For some people, this is where they build a complete plot, outline, and chapter or parts list with descriptions of what needs to happen in each part of their book before they even start writing. This is a solid approach and can work for some people. It can help make your writing cleaner and easier because you can, in a way, paint by numbers at that point. You are now writing to fill in the blanks. It works and it is proven. It is also not the way that I write.
I don’t like doing huge plots and outlines of my stories. The main reason that I don’t do this is because I am a reader. If I do a plot and all of that other stuff, I lose my spark and motivation in the clutter of it because I then know exactly what is going to happen in my story and the road to get there.
Instead, I write from an idea. The easiest way that I can describe it is as a bead of water rolling down a window covered in water drops. You know in general where the water is going, down, but you don’t really know the exact route that it will take to reach that point and what other drops of water it will run into and join and leave behind along its way. The car may even start driving and the bead could find itself going up or sideways instead of down, but you still know that it is a bead of water on the window and that, eventually, it will come off of the window. That’s how I write. I take my spark and I sit down and let it lead me to the supplies that it needs to build a fire. It may not be the greatest fire ever, but it is an original fire.
That was a little strong on the analogy, so I’ll try to break it down a little more now. The first part was the spark. Once I have that spark, I sit down and I try to write a first page or chapter at least. It may not be perfect or even what I use once I am done, but it creates the flow for my story after that. Then I start writing. I like to have at least one strong, main character and I take my cue form them. They are the one living this story and I do my best to think about what they would want and desire. What their driving motivation is and I let them lead the story and then I do my best to keep up with words so that I don’t lose track of them. Sometimes they run off and I have to go find them, that is when I have the hardest time writing. But when I am caught up with them, it is less of me writing than just copying the words, feelings, and places that they characters want to show until we reach the end. Honestly, I rarely know how my stories are going to end. I may have a vague idea of where I think it is going, but usually it is a little bit of a surprise when I reach it.
Paying the Price
Now I need to back up a little and go back to the plotting topic. There is a price for this style of free writing that I practice, and that price is in time. What I mean is editing time. The more solid you plot and outline are, the less editing you are likely to need to do and the less likely you are to hit a dead end with a story and have to back up five, ten, thirty thousand words and take that other fork in the road that you passed up before. It is like going through a dungeon with and without the walk-through. With the walk-through, you can avoid the pointless encounters, dead ends, and back tracking as you try to reach the end boss and find all the best loot. Without the walk-through, you can spend hours or even days doing the same thing and you will still wonder if you missed something. Or you may die in the dungeon. That is the issue with a free writing style. You are going to have to take those hours and days and the HP price in words cut and re-written that you may have avoided if you had the plot and outline. But… Yes, there is a but and the but is that you were able to go on the adventure and experience all of the surprises and maybe, just maybe, find a hidden route or room that you couldn’t have found with a plot or walk-through because it didn’t exist before you found it. It is something new and it is all yours and you are the first one to ever get to see it. That is why I prefer free writing.
These days, I am doing more of a hybrid approach as my worlds and writing expand and get more complex. What this means is that I am creating an outline for my setting, the world’s information, and some outlines for my characters, at least for the main character. I don’t create a plot outline beyond what is in my head and I have a foggy idea of where the story is heading. I’ll reach land, when it is time to reach land, but it may not be the land I thought I was going to reach.
For my genres, SciFi and Fantasy, this works for me. If I was writing a mystery or something along those lines, I would probably need a plot because it would be hard to build the suspense without it. But then again, maybe not.
End of the World
The end goal of writing is to create something. Remember what I said above about published verse written. I have published one book and will be publishing two more out of that series in the next month or so, but that is far from all the stories I have written. I kid you not, I have a folder with thirty other stories sitting in it that I wrote because I had a spark. But that is the thing about sparks, not every spark can become a flame, but you’ll never know until you start writing it using whatever method works for you and just because the spark seems to have fizzled out, doesn’t mean that it is dead. As you improve your writing, you may find that some of those sparks that you thought were dead are now alive again and that you can now build them into the blazes that you envisioned when you first started trying to write them.
What it takes
So, in the end, what does it take to be a writer and an Author? The answer is cliche at this point but it is still the same. You need to write. Find your spark and write about it. Your pen is a knife and your words are the whetstone. You have to write to sharpen your knife and the more you write, the sharper it will get.
If you are serious about writing and becoming an author, remember a few things. You are here to write and share soemthing. Yes, there are authors that get rich, though not many, and some of them really aren’t authors. I say this because what they did was write something with the purpose of earning money and it really does show in their writing, and that holds true across all genres. An Authors mission is to share. To share a world or an idea and that is what you need to remember in your writing. What is it that you want to share?
Have fun and remember, you may be an Author, but you are also a reader. Write something that you want to read. Especially if you are making a textbook.
Thanks for reading to this point. If you have any comments or thoughts, leave them below.
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