The writing process. Those three words mean different things to different writers. And yet, it’s the one thing non-writers and writers alike want to know about, i.e. what is it? How does it happen? Is there a standard way to do it? How do I get ideas? How do I lure inspiration into my life? Am I doing it right?
First of all, the writing process is exactly that: the process of writing something, be it fiction, non-fiction, poetry, a play or screenplay, a speech, etc. There’s nothing mysterious about it. The process involves desire and openness to begin: the desire to write and an openness to the world and people. Curiosity about everything also helps, because inspiration waits for no one. Live life to the fullest, read widely, travel, follow interests, meet people, listen to dreams. Be curious and interested with everything outside the self.
The writing process happens when an individual decides to write something. There is no standard way to proceed and complete the process which is as individual as each person doing it. Ideas are everywhere. Curiosity about the world and people is essential. Having written that, I realize that ideas also tend to find the person they are most suitable for, like a cat finds the person most allergic to her. Not that any writer could develop an allergy to ideas…. Inspiration waits for no one, so it’s important to be open to it. Inspiration is really just an idea finding the right person and making her sneeze. There is no right way to do it, either. But like narrative structure, there’s a beginning, middle and end.
In the beginning of the short story I’m currently working on, I had an experience that involved a disease and a treatment for that disease, specifically an ultraviolet light chamber. This experience reminded me of the line “Beam me up, Scotty!” in the original Star Trek series. That thought made me smile and hung around for weeks in my mind, just sitting there, swinging its feet, waiting. That is, waiting for an idea. I have no clue how my imagination takes in experiences on all levels and then slips out the thing that nags at my mind, in this case, it was the idea of fish scales. Then one day, I saw in my mind a sentient being that resembled more a Komodo dragon than a human and I…sneezed. Inspiration had caressed my nose. That Komodo sentient being was a character with low self-esteem and it had a story.
From there, Komodo has been slowly opening up and sharing its story with me. I ask what gender it is, and receive no answer, so I’m beginning to think its sexuality either is extremely different from human understanding or isn’t important in the story. Ditto with a name. But I know what Komodo wants, what some of the obstacles are to getting it, and…. I don’t know anymore. At this point, I haven’t begun writing down the story. First, what I generally do is write notes which develop into a sketch of an outline, usually 3 sentences to 3 paragraphs: Komodo wants such and such; a list of obstacles and conflicts; then a possible ending. At this point in the process, nothing is written in stone for me. I want to be completely open to the story evolving organically according to the needs and actions of Komodo.
After time has passed — days, weeks, or months — I begin to feel really restless, on edge, and full, like maybe I shouldn’t have had that second helping at dinner. I also feel that I really want to write down Komodo’s story and see what happens with it. As I write, whether longhand or on the computer, seeing the words flow triggers more words, more ideas. Sometimes, a story comes out all at once — quite a fortunate experience! Most of the times, it comes out in spurts, with a lot of thinking going on between them. Once I have a first draft down on paper, I will put the story away for a minimum of a week to ferment. When I return to it, I revise to tighten it, sharpen the language and images, check for narrative holes, make sure Komodo changed over the course of the story. Revising is finding the right word, the right image or detail, being specific in language. One revision is never enough. And Inspiration continues to flow into the story with each revision.
Finally, the end. The story is done. I will put it away again for a minimum of one week. Then I might ask people I trust to give me constructive feedback after reading the story…or not, depending on what I think the story needs. I might put it away for months and work on something else. Or I might research markets, i.e. magazines or literary journals, in order to submit it. Sometimes more revisions happen after several rejections. Sometimes an editor loves the story and wants to publish it.
And that’s a sketchy outline of the writing process….no standard, right or easy way about it.