Writers’ Secrets 4: Sometimes I get Ideas but I Never Know What to do With Them

The shocking truth is: it might just be a shit idea. It happens. A lot. To every writer. Well over half of my ideas fall into this category. Sometimes I recognise this before I start working on them. Sometimes I won’t notice until I’ve written a draft of the story. Fortunately the former is more common but it is very disheartening when you find that the amazing idea you had yesterday is more dull than recycling empty cans and bottles in the cold light of day.

But that’s a topic for another post.

Let’s imagine that you are lucky enough to get a good idea. An idea worth doing something with. An idea that could grow into a great story. What do you do with it?

Some people argue that different writers do different things at this stage. They either plan or write. They also argue that this depends on what kind of writer you are. One of my tutors calls them architects and dreamers. (I’m sure you can guess which is which.)

I, however, disagree with this. Whilst I accept that some writers plan before actually writing and some don’t, I believe that both of these are part of a process I like to call ‘pre-writing’. (I didn’t coin this term, I just wish I had.)

Pre-writing is any kind of writing, physical or mental, that goes on before you write the story. A writer will do it subconsciously as well as with intention. Sometimes you get an idea and carry it around with you for years. That doesn’t mean nothing is happening to it. It’s just on the back burner, slow-cooking, without you even being aware of it. Sometimes you get an idea and want to start straight away. Maybe you’ll plan the plot, scene by scene. Maybe you’ll get to know the characters more. Maybe you’ll get a feel for the setting. Create a sense of place in your head.

Maybe you’ll just write the thing.

So how can I think that the people who launch straight in without planning are pre-writing? Because when you’re doing this, you’re finding the story. You’re mapping the route of the story, just as you would if you’re writing a plan, you’re just doing it in a different way. Besides, no-one stops at this point and declares their story finished. When you’ve got your first draft, you will have to edit it. You may even need to rewrite it from scratch.

Even dreamers have to architect.

Next week: the first draft.

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2 thoughts on “Writers’ Secrets 4: Sometimes I get Ideas but I Never Know What to do With Them

  1. Hear, hear. I’ve fallen into one of the writer’s traps in the past; you know, the one where you berate yourself constantly for not ‘doing anything’ with this ‘brilliant idea’. I did have a brilliant idea in 2005, and I made notes about it, and then shelved it. A few months ago I (after six years of it maturing and evolving in my mind) pulled it out and started writing my second novel based on that idea, and it’s a lot better than the original.

    I’ve discarded (hypothetically, not literally) a lot of ideas down the road. Who knows? Some may just be maturing.

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