Ideas are the first step to writing your masterpiece. They are the building blocks that make up the cinematic journey you take before you put a single word onto the page.
Good ideas tend to hit me like a piano falling on my head from the window of a ten story building. Sometimes it hurts like a bee sting–assuming you’re allergic to bees–other times it perpetuates a glorious state of nirvana.
However they hit you, story ideas can be fragile. To keep them budding and alive, there are three things every writer should know.
Embrace the idea.
Writing comes with some amazing pros, and one of the best is the “ah-hah” moment that typically occurs when you encounter a great plot twist in a film or book. This moment also comes when your creative brain begins telling you a story that you know, deep down in your writer’s heart, you must put to paper.
When that happens, don’t just push the idea aside. Embrace it. Write it down. Don’t rely on memory or some other fallible resource like that seven-year-old laptop covered in junk mail on your kitchen counter. You know, the same surface where all the I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-this stuff goes. Cradle it in the metaphorical arms of a reliable machine. Coddle the idea until it can bloom. Make sure that the idea has a chance to become something amazing and then–only then–can you be a little careless.
Don’t worry about putting it all together.
During this stage of your novel, you don’t need to worry about all the pieces falling into place. What you have to do is let the story flow and become what it will be. A story doesn’t write itself, that’s true. But in the mind’s eye, you aren’t telling the story yet. It’s telling you how it will go. You’ve only just begun listening to its voice and you can’t possible anticipate what it wants to say yet.
Once the idea becomes more tangible, then you can manipulate the raw form into a version that better suits the direction you’ve chosen. It might seem a little backwards, like sculpting clay after it’s baked, but that’s writing. Trust me. Everything always seems backwards until you hold it up to a mirror. Until then, let it be free.
This one speaks for itself. But I guess I’ll explain it anyway.
Fantasize about the story idea. Play with it–the characters, the plot, the implications of each direction you see–learn what it likes, what it doesn’t like.
What feels right will come naturally.
Anything that doesn’t belong will feel forced in the pre-writing stage as well as in the final draft. Trust your instincts, but don’t let perfectionism crush the story-bud that has only just begun to bloom.
Protect that fragile idea from the crushing blow of self-doubt.
Above all the others, I feel that this is the most important thing for us to remember as we develop our fantastic thoughts into epic tales.
Even the best of us have doubts. Possible because we’re all losers. More likely though, it’s that we haven’t seen what the story looks like in the mirror. And it’s too easy to think “this idea is stupid” and give up before we’ve really even started.
The thought that people are going to hate your idea, that they’ll think it’s ridiculous or impractical, or just plain boring, can be crippling. Because no one wants to read about the life of an orphan when all she does is grow up to be a governess for a rich guy and his French ward.
Nobody cares about a ridiculous family of silly sisters, even if one of them is sweet and the other clever. Darcy is a silly name, isn’t it? Maybe William Hamilton will be better…
And who cares about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard? A wizard school? Really? Been there, read that. How practical is owl post anyway?
Every writer on the planet has had similar doubts, no matter how successful they became. You can’t be human without doubts. You’d have to be an extraterrestrial (or John Green). But no matter what sort of thoughts your inner doubter throws your way, follow the very first piece of advice on this page.
Embrace your idea.
Let it develop into something amazing. Give it a chance. If people laugh, they laugh. That’s what revision is designed to overcome. Right now, all you need to worry about is giving your story idea the chance it deserves. Because you never know how it will turn out until you get to the last page. Chances are, your idea will be better than you ever expected. If not, tomorrow is another day and more stories will come to you. If you’re truly a writer, you won’t be able to stop them. And if you’re lucky, the people who laughed or doubted you will feel as awesome as all the publishers who doubted the success of Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and Harry Potter. Who’s laughing now? Not them, that’s for sure. Looks like they couldn’t find that mirror either.