Let The Story Find You

The start of the year can be difficult for some. Not everyone enjoys the holiday season and once January rolls into view we still have a couple of months of cold weather (in the northern hemisphere anyway), dark nights and according to the now annual news story the supposed saddest day of the year.

However, as someone who blogs about the NFL I get the excitement of the playoffs to carry me through January and into the NFL off-season that started in February. I am intending to write a few more off-season NFL posts this year, but I don’t cover the league in detail during this time so my schedule is undeniably easier. This enables me to get various bits of writing admin done and I can also pick up the pace on whatever book I’m currently working on.

I have been dutifully working my way through the first draft of the next book in my current series all through the NFL season (a savvy marketer might have a title for said series by book two…) and it is feeling good so far, but that’s likely because I haven’t got to the serious part of editing yet.

There are a couple of things that I have picked up from other writers over the years that I want to quickly run through before I steer this post to some kind of conclusion, or at least write enough for the title to make some sense.

Firstly, I’m a big believer in the first draft’s job being to exist, all it needs to do is get you from beginning to end. Then the serious work of redrafts, polishing and improving the story until it actually works can begin.

The second things is that I also like the idea of classifying writers into gardeners and architects, which I picked up from George R R Martin. A writer who is an architect plans out everything before they write while the gardeners discover things as their writing grows. One of the reasons that I like it is whilst the idea feels true, there is some give in the analogy as thanks to time spent in my own garden and years of watching Grand Designs I’m very much aware that not all architects have everything as planned out before building begins as you might think and you definitely need some kind of plan if you hope to not have an overgrown mess for a garden. I think my partner and I have just about managed that in our garden, but I think there are probably elements of both in most writer’s approaches, it is a matter of which approach they favour.

Personally, I think of myself as a semi-organised gardener when it comes to writing. My book ideas usually has an overall arc or theme, some key moments I want to hit and perhaps  a plot plan that I base on something John Truby called The Seven Key Steps of Story Structure in his book The Anatomy of Story which is something I use to help me work through a problem if I have lost my thread or if I need to tighten the focus of part of the thing I am writing.

However, how I really find my way is to write. I’ve become more comfortable with this as I’ve finished more books, both thanks to repetition but also as I refine my process. I now have a better idea of when I need to stop editing digitally and read on paper (the change in format really helps your brain see the words you have written anew), how long I need leave a draft before I go back to it, and increasingly the timing of talking to my editor versus setting the ball rolling for production. I’m still working on judging the occasions where I have written a full explanation of how something works so that I am happy it makes sense, but knowing when I need to remove it from the actual book as it doesn’t truly serve the story to make a reader go through every single step with me.

These past two months since the new year has been spent still trying to get from beginning to end of a first draft. I restarted my novel after a bit of a break over Christmas, and the little and often approach has allowed me time to realise that part of the overall plot actually belongs in the next book rather than in the one I’m currently writing, balancing out the two books that I have planned to finish the series. At least that is what I am thinking at the moment, but as you might have picked up from this post, plans can very easily change through the process of writing and while for some writers this discovery might be made over pages of notes or a complex web of cards, I realised the big move of plot whilst cleaning out my rabbits. Repetitive manual tasks are great for this kind of clear your head and the answer will come moments. Running is another favourite time for my mind to roam and come up with suggestions because I find that a lot of the inspiration part of the creative process occurs away from the keyboard. It is still important not to wait for inspiration to strike before you start to write. For me writing is a craft that benefits tremendously from regular practise. There is always work you can be doing to hone your craft, just make sure that when the flash of inspiration strikes you make a note of what it is there and then.

This is what I mean by let the story find you.

If for instance, you are working on a book and find yourself say over a dozen chapters in and beginning to worry about how big this first draft might get. Well that is going to float round in your brain whether you want it to or not but if you leave it floating round rather than chasing a solution, then inspiration might just strike when you least expect it. Of course, the important thing with writing is the work, but I do think there is an important balance to be struck between creative problem solving, honing your craft through regular writing, repeated drafts, and finally constructive feedback from people you trust.

So if you are stuck, keep writing your words as you don’t want to get out the habit of writing, but don’t worry too much about what you put on the page initially as it can always be fixed later and make sure you give yourself plenty of time in the kind of states where ideas come to you. Be it in the shower, running, or doing household chores. It doesn’t matter what works for you just as long as it does. You might be surprised what you can achieve if you let the story come to you.