Here's a secret that not many writers share: Writing is the easy part of the Writing Process.
Like you, I was shocked when I learned the truth.
Before I go any further, let's take a quick look at the generally agreed upon writing process:
- Have an Idea
- Brainstorm/Workshop/Develop your Idea
- Form those ideas into an Outline
- Write the First Draft
- Revise and Edit into a 2nd Draft
- Use Editors/Peers to Edit into a 3rd Draft
- Package and Publish your Story
- Market your story, Try and find readers
Taking an idea all the way from "Concept" to "Realization" is a mysterious, complicated process. As you can see, there are many stops along the journey of writing a book. The writing itself is only one link in the chain.
Any novel author would admit that they spend considerably a lot more time editing the manuscript than actually writing it. (I'd love to see a pie chart, or some kind of breakdown, by the hour, of how much time a novel writer spends on each step of the process, during any given project).
Now, writers like to write. We write for fun. We write when we're bored. Most of us know they we are writers from an early age, even if it takes us many years to admit what we know is true.
But just because you like to write, does NOT mean that you know how to craft a story. Story craft is the art, the form, the technical aspect of writing. Story craft does not happen accidentally. Good stories are written by experienced, studied, time-tested individuals.
A novice writer does not pull beautiful stories out of their nose, no matter how passionate they are. Passion does not translate directly to expertise, as any musician, olympian, or world champion will tell you. A novice writer becomes a storyteller through hard work and repetition.
So writing takes hard work. That's no surprise. But where exactly the hard work happens, I think that's what's generally misunderstood.
In the world of "Writing Lore", we have a tendency to romanticize the actual writing itself. We always hear advice like...
- Put your butt in the chair
- Write everyday
- Write without editing
- Go go go - Just write!
But none of that matters if you don't know what you're doing, or where you're going. You can exhaust yourself by running in circles, but you're not really getting anywhere, you're just exercising.
Working hard is not difficult in and of itself. No matter the task, all the same principles apply. Get lots of sleep. Drink lots of water. Put in a little bit of work everyday. Stay healthy and stay consistent, and you're bound to finish the job eventually.
Working hard is easy - it's mindless. Working smart is key.
Here are a few things I learned about writing fiction that I didn't know before I started writing:
- Every author knows AT LEAST the beginning and the end of the story, before they ever write the first word.
- Most authors know a LOT more than this. Most authors have the whole thing mapped out before they even write the first word. They've spent hours, days, months, even YEARS plotting and planning before they begin "writing"
- Some authors like Stephen King write without knowing the ending. But that's only because they have decades of experience. When you've been writing for 30 years, maybe you too can "go it free".
- Even writers who call themselves "pantsers" have some concept of the END. They can see that final conflict in the distance, like a star to navigate by, as they go through the journey of writing the story.
It's a very mysterious process, this business of coming up with ideas.
If I knew how it worked, I'd tell you, and together we'd get rich.
The process of creativity is not easy to pin down. That's what's so beautiful about it. And so frustrating. It wouldn't be magical if we understood it from all sides.
My point is that, beginning writers need to focus on developing their idea muscles, and shaping interesting stories, just as much as they need to focus on the nuts and bolts of producing words.
The true currency of the writing ecosystem is not the hard work of writing itself, like many believe, the million-dollar-skill is IDEA DEVELOPMENT.
For tomorrow's post, I'm going to list all of the best methods that I've learned, read about, heard about, stolen from other people.... for developing ideas.