Seed To Flower: Bringing Ideas Along

2012-06-08 13.30.17In the last two weeks I have taken a novel from the barest seed of an idea to full outline. That probably seems fast to some of you, and slow to others. For me, it’s on the fast side. Especially since this was a cold idea, one that I just selected from the brain queue at random and said yes, you, you’ll do and not one that I’ve been rolling around in my subconscious for a few years. Every writer has a few of those.

I needed a new story. The just finished manuscript is out with betas and awaiting feedback, and there’s not point in starting the sequel yet. But writers write, and I didn’t have anything immediately on deck.

So I made something.

I picked the first idea that came to me, and started in. I wanted to test some new planning methods, and so far they’ve worked.

The first came from Delilah S. Dawson, aka Lila Bowen, who wrote Servants of the Storm and Wake of Vultures respectively, both of which are awesome. She wrote a post on using music playlists for inspiration. You all know I love music, but while I often create playlists, they’re usually done after, not before.

But I had a go. I used Spotify, gathered 32 songs that sounded about right*. It took me about a day. Then I listened to it on repeat in my big ol’ over-the-ear headphones while I knocked out fast notes on the other stuff: main character, setting, inciting incident, etc. After two days, that gave me the bare bones of what was, by this point, starting to turn into something interesting.

But it lacked structure, and I know I need structure, so I trawled through my document files until I found this: a novel outliner template by Caroline Norrington for Scrivener that I downloaded back in the long ago and never tried. No time like the present.

If you’re already had a look at that template, be warned: it’s a monster. There’s shit in there that I don’t even know what to do with. But, importantly, it had big-ass lists of questions that needed to be asked and answered before this story moves on. I can’t always think of those questions on my own. And, thanks to this, I didn’t have to.

I filled in as much of this template as I wanted, which took about a week. And now I have a scene-by-scene outline, ready to go.

Will it go anywhere? Only time will tell. And, to be honestly, it’ll tell pretty quickly; I’m planning to start writing this soon. But I have never gotten from nothing to a solid outline this quickly.

Now I’m off to make a batch of brownies.

**flies away in a puff of coffee grounds**

*About write. Eh? Eh?

Idea Seeds: How It All Starts

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HI I’M THE IDEA FAIRY.

So, you’ll be doing something completely fucking mundane, like grocery shopping or showering or brushing your teeth. And while you’re zoning out and thinking of nothing but cereal or whether or not you should shave or floss, something appears. A scene. A character. A plot. For me, it’s usually two characters and a terrible situation, because I am a terrible person.

And you’ll pause, with a box of Lucky Charms in hand or with the water running over you or with toothpaste dripping from your chin, and look at this thing in your mind for a while. Eventually you stop asking where they came from; you just look, and see if it’s going to do anything interesting.

And sometimes it does, right away, and you can play with it while you finish your shopping or rise or spit. And sometimes it doesn’t, and you have to put it away on a mental shelf somewhere with a lot of other things and hope that someday it does.

When they get interesting, you sit down with a notebook or a laptop or the voice recorder on your bloody phone or a sharpie and your bare skin, and take notes. What it can do, what it can’t, what it needs to become. And eventually you wrestle it into a shape somewhere between what you want it to be and what you’re capable of making.

Once the writing starts, it moves again, because this thing is alive, and it’s evolving, and it’s making itself as much as you’re making it. Sometimes it won’t go anywhere because you’re looking in the wrong direction. Sometimes it’ll die because either it’s not right or you’re not, and there’s nothing that can be done about that. Sometimes dead ones come back, because they weren’t dead, they were just waiting for the right time.

And sooner or later you’ll have a story. It won’t be what you thought it was. It never is. But it’s enough.

You’ll look back, and remember that moment in the grocery store or the bathroom, and the first thing that appeared. And sometimes you’ll see the road from there to here clearly; other times it’ll be hidden behind years and edits, because you were a different person then.

And then, one day while you’re doing something completely fucking mundane, it’ll happen again.

10 Things I Totally Didn’t Do While I Wasn’t Writing Last Week

1. Spy on you. You should close your curtains. Nice couch, though. Ikea?

2. Binge read an entire book series. Definitely not the Alanna the Lioness series, or the Beka Cooper series, or most of Harry Potter.


3. Remove a bunch of parts from the Jeep.
It’s cool. It was just the top. And sides.

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Hi.

4. Punch another hole in my face. Definitely didn’t do that, and my mom was definitely not disappointed in me.

5. Re-read four years worth of RPG notes. Because it’s not as though GMs love to bring back the enemies you forgot about.

6. Come up with seventeen new story ideas. About 10% of which are viable. Theoretically.

7. Refresh my summer wardrobe. My aesthetic is equal parts Fury Road and Rock of Ages.

8. Make a shitload of cookies and freeze them against the oncoming Too Hot To Turn On The Oven season. You should never have to choose between pistachio shortbread and comfort.

9. Get a fucking sunburn. I was outside for, like, five minutes and I had sunscreen on!

10. Write. Definitely not. I just…may have scribbled down some notes. On something. I wouldn’t worry about it.

Before The Storm

Fucking PencilsSo, there were no posts last week because I was on the last blitzkreig-esque run that happens at the end of finishing a story. Those times are weird. My fitness tracker kept alerting me because I was moving so much less than usual. I think it believed I was dead, and hoped the vibration would alert someone to the whereabouts of my body.

The last moments of editing, it turns out, are a lot like the last moments of writing: all fire and hammering as you frantically try to forge a bunch of pieces together into one giant, unstoppable whole which will soon be lurching down to the village. It’s exhilarating, but it’s also tiring. By the time I wrapped things up before spending the weekend away, I was spent. Mentally, not physically. It’s already been established I was more of a desk sloth than usual last week.

This week, now that I’m home, is the rumoured Time Between Books. I’m not even sure what the next project is, let alone when it’s due. In a way, that’s a relief, because it’s nice to be able to think again. But I also feel a bit like a fish that’s just been yanked out of the ocean, flopping around and gasping. I need to get back in the water soon.

Not yet, though. This week I’m catching up on all the little chores that pile up during writing time and knocking off a bunch of small projects. Gift shopping, because most everyone I know was born in the second half of the year. Bookshelf organizing. Hell, I might actually get my nephew’s birthday gift to him early for once.

And, of course, taking down all the stuff from the last project.

This one’s bittersweet. I know I don’t need those post-it notes and scrawled timelines any more, but dumping them in the waste basket is still a wrench.

But they have to go. Because I need that space for the new project.

I know, I know. I said a few paragraphs ago that I didn’t know what that was yet. And I don’t . Not entirely. But I have a feeling. And what I do know is that it’s going to be a doozy.

This here? This is the calm before the storm. Better enjoy it.

Insomnia: A Timeline

Fender Laser Eyes

Look at this asshole.

10:00: Great time to go to bed if you get up at 6:00 am. Great time for your night owl friends to say “You’re going to bed already? My kids go to bed now.” Also: this is the time my asshole cat starts snorting coke from the stash she almost certainly keep somewhere in the house.

10:30: The time I mean to turn off my light after reading for half an hour.

11:42: The time you check the clock again.

11:45: I have to be up at what time?

11:47: The time I actually turn off my light.

11:52: The time I turn the light back on to finish that chapter.*

12:18: The time I turn off the light for real this time.

12:23: The time I start mentally revising my latest story.

12:42: You know what would make this story awesome? Robots.

12:43: No, dinosaurs.

12:44: No, robot dinosaurs.

12:45: Did I just pitch Transformers 3 to myself?

12:46: Get back on track. That story’s not going to fix itself.

1:07: I wish this story would fix itself.

1:14: Balls, I need to get some sleep. Okay. Enough story bullshit. I can think about that tomorrow. Right now, it’s sleep time.

1:22: I SAID SLEEP TIME, ASSHOLE CAT.

1:38: *Actually asleep*

3:49: HOLY BLAZING SHIT CANNONS, THAT DREAM FIXES THE STORY PERFECTLY. I MUST WRITE THIS BRILLIANT IDEA DOWN BEFORE SLEEP RETURNS IT TO WHATEVER WONDERLAND IT CAME FROM. *taps excitedly on phone*

4:01: *asleep again*

4:45: Asshole Cat begins the Face-Biting Tapdance of her people, and I wake up with fang prints on my nose.

5:13: I regret not getting a dog.

5:15: I get up to pee. Asshole Cat accompanies me, because peeing is a team sport.

5:19: Asshole Cat is adorable, and I take back what I said about getting a dog.

5:20: Why is there a note about wombat combat pilots on my phone?

5:21: WOMBAT COMBAT, ahahahah, you kill me, sleeping brain.

5:22: *asleep again*

6:00: whuhfuckintimeisit?

6:01: Shit.

6:02: God, I should check those notes from last night….Yep, just as I thought. Wombat combat, something about the Illuminati and….hey. This one’s not bad. It might even work. All I have to do is…

6:03: Crank up the writing engines and put on the motherfucking coffee, because it’s a new day and I’ve got writing to do!

*If you share a bed, this is followed by 11:53: The time your bed mate asks what the hell is wrong with you.

Writers Don’t Want Your Damn Ideas

She is one thousand percent done with your shit.

Every writer has had this experience:

You meet someone, and they find out—maybe you tell them, maybe someone else already has—that you write. And they get this gleam in their eye and you just know what the next words out of their goddamn mouth will be: “Hey, I’ve got this idea. It’s all ready to go. Now that I’ve done the hard part, you should write it for me and then we can go splits.

If you are a nicer person than me, you listen to them politely. If you are a much nicer person than me, you make some noncommittal noises and let them leave with the impression that you consider yourself lucky to have heard their idea.

If you’re exactly like me, though, you treat them to Cersei Lannister-style bitch face until they feel the cold winds of eternity blowing through their soul, laying freezing waste to what they encounter, cutting down men like wheat in the field.* Winter isn’t coming, you shambling pubefarmer; it’s here, in my eyes.

Writers don’t want your ideas. We have enough of our own.

Seriously, whenever I finish something and am trying to decide on the next thing to write, it’s never a case of looking for an idea. It’s a case of choosing from the dozens of new ideas that are clustered around my feet, all clamouring for attention. If you’re imagining standing ankle-deep in an adorable crowd of puppies, don’t. They’re not tame, these ideas. They climb over each other. They bite. The stronger ones bury the weaker, so  what I’m actually choosing from is a hundred varieties of monster: vicious, blood-thirsty, and demanding.

And then these happy assholes come along with their idea—their usually poorly-thought-out, undernourished, barely-alive idea—and want you to put it before all the clamouring monsters clawing at your legs and climbing up your back. Because, despite the fact that they’ve never found it interesting enough to spend hours putting the damn thing to paper themselves, this idea is just that fucking awesome. And, the implication is, your ideas are shit.

Because these people think that a writer is nothing more than a tape recorder with a pulse, a device to record their genius. Anyone can do it, right? They certainly could, if they only had the time. But since they’re far too busy doing important things, they’re willing to share the glory with poor little you.

Note to everyone who feels the desire to offer their ideas to writers: don’t. We are not the elves to your shoemaker. We don’t need your ideas. And we are far, far too busy for your shit.

*Not always true. Sometimes I just laugh.