My Writing Journey: 7 steps from idea to first draft

We talked the other day about where stories come from.

And judging by the comments, it’s a fact: we all have ideas. They float in on bus journeys, arrive in restaurants, sit about in the air like apples ripe for picking, or like dreams waiting for the dream-catcher. But what happens next?

I’ve been reading lots of posts on whether people plan or don’t plan; how they plan; how much they plan. There is no right or wrong way. What works for you may not work for me. I’m a pretty random lady. I’m also a Virgo (if you believe all that stuff). I can assure you that a Virgo would plan – everybody tells me so. It is in my nature, along with being ultra tidy, and ultra organised. Which is a bit of a shame, because I haven’t found those pieces of me yet. And planning the whole novel out – well, I have done it. Can’t say it thrilled me. I was on a course where the guy teaching thought that was what I should be doing before I started writing. Weeks I spent, perfecting a wonderful chapter by chapter account of my story. I knew every inch and every innuendo. I knew the main guy’s inside leg measurement and how many sweeteners the love interest stuffed into her coffee.

I wrote the thing. It’s still around somewhere, one of my under the bed learning experiences. By the end it was all a bit of a yawn. I knew too much and became bored. And so would you if I were ever daft enough to let you read it.

Off on a voyage of discovery

These days, I run a less tight ship and with NaNoWriMo coming up (which I have never done, but may give a whirl this year), I thought I would share my process with you. Or how it sometimes goes. Nothing is ever set in stone…

  1. I have this brilliant idea. Well – probably half an idea. Let’s say a millionaire’s daughter wants to learn the business from the bottom up so she joins the firm under a false name. OK, maybe only a quarter of an idea. On the news, there is a coach crash and I think maybe it’s a coach company. So I give her a name, Eileen, say, and I give the company a name: Smooth Coaches. And I go for a walk or better still shopping. I don’t want to be thinking about this idea.

    You’re putting this in your story? It’s out of the ark!

  2. While shopping, I spot more coaches than you can shake a stick at. Eventually I am so side-tracked I can’t ignore it any longer. Shopping takes a back seat. I have to pick up leaflets at the Travel Agent on coach tours and holidays. I may buy a map. I might hang around the coach stop and collect a couple of tickets from the ground. I begin scribbling notes and thoughts. I open a file on the computer called Smooth Coaches because I can’t think of anything else to call it.
  3. I ask a couple of friends if they’ve been on coach tours and glean lots of useful and useless information. More notes and more thoughts.
  4. I eat drink and sleep with this idea. I have a dream about two men, twins who want to take over a business. I add in a little love interest as I wake up and scribble. She’s a beautiful but money grabbing creature whom I’m going to call Lulu. (Apologies to everyone called Lulu everywhere). I decide that the boss – let’s give him a name too, Pilot. Ronan Pilot. (Where did that come from? Haven’t a clue. Quite like that. If you like it, I bequeath him to you). Ronan is not a well man. So Eileen needs to get a move on and find out about the business if she is to take it over. So had I. I begin to investigate coach firms to find out how they work. More notes.
  5. By now I’ve got some characters, a vague idea of what their motivations are, but no actual plot. I do a lot more festering and some more scribbling. I might dig out a few photos of where I’ve been on holidays. I still don’t know what I’m going to write. Is this a romance? A murder? Bit of both? Who’s the baddie? I’ve assumed so far that Eileen is the main character and is the goodie, but she doesn’t have to be. Her motivations are called into question and I decide I’d better take a look at a character arc or two.
  6. Cue to dig out The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. Or something similar. I like the Journey, because it settles things for me. I like all that ‘Call to Action’ and ‘Crossing Thresholds’ stuff. I write out (I’m still working longhand at this stage) the Journey, sticking various characters in where appropriate, changing their roles and fiddling with their motivations to see if they hold water. OK, Eileen’s still the goodie, but I’ve got three baddies, Lulu and the twins, all with different ideas of how they’re going to get the old man’s money. More festering. What if they plot together, but have plans to cut each other out of the picture towards the end? By now I’ve got copious notes, post-its, tickets, maps, brochures, character thoughts. I start a file. A real live enormous lever arch job into which I stuff it all. And I open a document in the computer file ‘Smooth coaches’ called ‘Characters’ where I flesh out my character ideas from all those notes.
  7. I decide to begin writing. Hold on! I hear you cry. You don’t have a plot. Well, no, but I have a few ideas, I have my characters and they know what they’re doing. I tend to write crime, not romance so it’s a fair bet I do know what this is. And I know from past experience that I’m going to have to re-write at least the first chapter or two completely anyway, so I might as well get stuck in and find out what’s happening.

    Fasten your seat belts – you’re in for a rough ride!

From there on in, I pretty much wing it. The Hero’s Journey might come out again at a later stage and be shuffled around to test if I think such plot as I have is working. I might decide I need introduce a new character, to be a friend and mentor for Eileen, maybe someone who knows her real identity. But essentially I have made some friends whom I know reasonably well and we go on this journey together. If I get stuck, I open up the lever arch file and check out the Character Files on the computer. The answers to any questions will be in there or in the phrase ‘what if?’

There is no novel called ‘Smooth Coaches’, no heroine called Eileen nor a baddie named Lulu. If you can do something with this, please feel free. It simply serves to illustrate one woman’s rather nutty approach to writing.

How do you work? How do you get from your germ of an idea to your first draft?


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9 responses to “My Writing Journey: 7 steps from idea to first draft

  1. Which reminds me….remember when I signed on to read your draft? you gave me admittance to secret yet private website??? Am I missing something? Engraved invitation? Kilted, red-haired Scot at my door playing pipes? Bikkies and/or choccys in the mail? Elvis left the building with my invite? How do I read said missive in private yet secreted website? You had second thoughts and goosebumps and rescinded offer? Let me know.

  2. Well done! I enjoyed reading this. One of my favorite voyeurisms is to peek inside another writer’s process. I had never heard of The Writer’s Journey, although I’ve dabbled with Jungian archetypes before. I like that they get to the collective unconscious, which does the universal work for you as well as to suggest structure and other useful necessities. I still think that to get a story up and running on its own legs has got to be one of the most presumptuous acts a human being can do. It simply terrifies me.

    • I love the Jungian archetypes. I really do think they help get a handle on the characters and allow you to see them as real people, with beginnings and motivations long before the book.
      Glad you enjoyed peeping inside my rather mad head.
      Agree on beginning the story though – very presumptuous act isn’t it? 🙂

  3. Loved reading your journey. it’s so reassuring to know that it isn’t only me who writes like that. I prefer box files to lever arch files as they hold all those tiny scraps of paper, newspaper clippings and relevant brochures without having to punch holes in them. Yes, I know you get punched pockets, but they sag horribly and tear.
    It’s thrilling to re-open these box files once the novel is complete and browse through all the scribbled notes. It’s amazing to see how the entire story began with a couple of sentences (and in my case, ‘what if..?’)
    Vive la voyage!

    • Know what you mean about box files – I have loads of lever arch so I use them, but I have to tape folder-things in the back to take all the bits of rubbish!
      And usually by the end, it is weird to see what has been used and what I have chosen to dump. 🙂

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