Author: How did you think of that?

I was asked recently by someone who read my latest novel: “How can you think of all the relationships and twists and turns?”

I replied, “Can’t anyone do that?”

“No,” came the quick reply. Huh. What do you know about that?

Writing and ideas is such a down-to-earth organic process for me that I just assume that anyone could do it if they wanted to. But I’m starting to realize that there are levels to writing and plot lines and twisted relationships and mind-jarring surprises that makes the readers go, “I didn’t see that coming.”

How do writers put it all together? How to they plot it out and keep track of everything? How do they do so creatively?

I suppose that each writer has his or her own way of trying to accomplish these.

For me, the answer to these questions are all about being patient and diligent in my writing. Let me explain what I mean.

When I start writing, I have a general direction and idea. If I didn’t, I’d be starring at a blank screen. But I don’t have an outline or an outcome. I love to discover what has yet entered my mind.

So I start writing, getting to know my characters, and allowing the plot line to weave along at a nice pace and then BOOM! It hits. Invariably when I get to a certain point, the force of all that I have already written finally gives me the clear direction of what HAS to happen next and what amazing TWISTS that I can add to the story.

In my latest novel, A Love Story for a Nation, it was slightly different because I based it on a short play that I had written. I knew the crux of the story and the general ending, so I had to create the back story that led up to the big events. What I didn’t know, however, is that there were two amazing secrets simmering beneath the surface. I don’t want to give them away because I’m no spoiler. However, as the idea for the first shocker came to my mind, I had to stop, sit back and really think it through. How much will it change the story? Will it make it better? Is it too contrived? I realized that it was too good of an idea to give up, and, in fact, it added an amazing deep layer to the story that I had not previously seen.

So how did I piece it together? Part luck (my brain just happened to think of it) and part diligence (just by continuing to write and allowing the story to peak at a point that would give me that break-through idea).

So if you’re struggling with ideas, the best advice I can give you is to just write. Keep it going and trust that your time and diligence will pay off for you.

It always does for me.

Letting Ideas Become Other Ideas

Ideas are not static. There’s a constant ebb and flow to them and any sort of creative artist has to take advantage of the movement of ideas in order to fully develop the original thought.

I’m learning to do this better than I did in the past. Many times I would have a writing idea, I’d write it and then move on to something else. But I’ve come to realize that I might be missing a lot of potential by not putting the necessary thinking into a topic.

Here’s a couple examples:

First, as I mentioned before on this site, my fourth, yet-to-be released novel, A Love Story for a Nation, is a story based on a short 10-minute dramatic sketch. When I started to look at the structure and underlying themes of the short piece, it became obvious to me that it needed a longer treatment and I’m actually thrilled with how the novel has turned out. One idea – two works! That’s pretty cool.

I’m currently working on a short musical about the end of the world. It’s been stalled and started several times, but it’s coming along. A while after I started it, a friend ask me to write a dramatic duet for a forensics competition. I was happy to do it, but I needed an idea. I went back through some of my unwritten ideas for some inspiration and I eventually decided to take the musical I was writing, completely change the characters and setting, but keep the underlying theme and suddenly, within two hours, I had my short sketch called “Words to Say at the End of the World.” It’s a heartfelt piece I really like and I never would have gotten there if I didn’t piggy-back off of my musical. On top of that, sing I have a mini-musical and a dramatic sketch on the same topic – the end of the world – I got to thinking that perhaps I could develop idea into a full-blown thematic play. I just might do it. It has a lot of potential.

So if you are a writer and ever get stuck with what to write next, my advice is to go back to what you already have. You might find a hidden gem of an idea that can fuel your next writing session.

What does a successful writing session look like?

Yesterday, I posted a silly philosophical rant prior to sitting down and writing out an idea that I had for a short play.

I probably jinxed myself because I went on about how within the next two hours I would be “changed” because of the inspiration which I just put down on paper.

I currently must have egg on my face because my magical two hour writing session fizzled. So I tried again this afternoon on the same idea and nothing. I just went back and forth with various ideas, but I couldn’t quite pull the trigger on any of them. It just didn’t feel right.

This is quite rare for me. When I sit down to write, typically 1000-3000 words will fly off the keys with remarkable ease. But it just didn’t happen. Does that mean my writing sessions of yesterday and today were unsuccessful?

Not in the least.

I’ve said this before, but I really believe it. Writing is mainly done in the head – in your mind and thought-process. Sometimes the idea is so tangible that the mind goes and the fingers have trouble keeping up. But other times the mind needs to slowly gander along the winding river of creativity to see what is currently in bloom. It needs to explore certain dark, dusty avenues to clear out the cobwebs. It needs to remain noncommittal, so the thought process has time to mature and be ready to spring forth.

This is not writer’s block. This is mental writing.

For all my time and effort, I may only have two different starting points of my play – each with about 200 words – but I am putting in some serious think time to see which, if any, is the way forward with this idea.

It’s not always bad to walk away from a writing session without much tangible proof that you have actually been writing.

It’s OK to step back and let your mind sort things out. I’m pretty sure that you will one day be rewarded for your patience. I’ll let you know when this particular play has finally worked its way out of my mind.