The story emerges from nowhere. I’m up to nothing of any importance, like out for a walk or painting a wall white, when carelessly and cheekily it comes to me in a single phrase: What if?
Rather than spill out the comforts of my seat, the aroma of my candle, and the exact parabola dip of the curtain to let in the right amount of light; rather than detail the word count for each day, the hour I set my alarm or if I even set one, and the recipe to the perfect smoothie to fuel my brain; rather than all that, I think instead I’ll share my frame of mind in my writer’s routine--though it is quite hard to recall, as I’m generally just too excited to write the story that I don’t really look up to notice exactly how it’s done.
I’ll give it a shot, shall I?
Once the ‘what if’ materializes (it compels me to do so), I tend to ask myself these preliminary questions when developing the bigger picture of the story:
- What is the general theme of the book?
- Where does the character go?
- How does the character get there?
It is that simple. Brood.
Brood your heart out.
Brainstorm, draw it out, ruminate, explore those central themes.
What if a tree could talk? What would it tell me? What would it care about?
I dictate all these thoughts in a journal between pages of to-do-lists and Bible study notes. I jot ideas down on unsealed envelopes, on the backside of a spring floral arrangement tutorial. I hoard these ideas.
And sometimes (most of the time) I just begin.
I’m not a plotting type person. As a matter of fact, planning is my least favorite chore in writing. It’s just so tedious. Plus, I’m not one of those talented people (ahem, Bryan) who can see the big picture while simultaneously plucking all the little details to build that big picture. I’m more of a ‘let the characters run wild’ kind of drafter. Not a plotter. This, of course, makes editing absolute torture.
So that’s what I do, I let the characters take shape and build; I let them play, dance, and run absolutely wild--and not necessarily in chronological order either (again, an editing nightmare). My goal is to get to know the character in this ‘what if’ scenario.
As I’m sure you’ve already surmised, some self-discovery happens here, too, in this getting to know the character part of the process. If you’re familiar with the enneagram and know my number, then this part won’t surprise you at all. I love getting to know people, and I, especially, love knowing what makes people happy. Why would it be any different with characters, Jordan? It’s actually one of my favorite parts about reading. It’s quite possible I spend far too much creative energy in familiarizing myself with the character, but, alas, I like it there.
How does he leave selfishness and arrive at kindness? But also, why?
Once I figure out where this character is headed, usually always on a path to redemption, I then begin to consider just how he arrives. This part normally takes a few weeks. I typically have some general idea on the first day of drafting, once I’ve collected all my envelopes and tutorial pages. Again, brood. And piece by piece, it all comes together.
And this is my routine. For now, anyway.
In the end, this routine will (hopefully) evolve along with my storytelling style, which is why learning in public is so important to me, to combat complacency and always be on a journey of learning.
I hope this wasn’t too presumptuous of me to write about a writer’s routine. From what I gather, each writer has their own sort of routine. I’m glad that for now, I’ve found something that works for me.
I do hope you found some inspiration in this ever-evolving routine.
On Writing Routine is number nine in the Learning in Public series, in which I take you along on all the hiccups and breakthroughs of learning to draw and storytell. Here is the first of many.