Lately I've been thinking about my habits as a writer (I say writer-- that is, a girl with a dream who still has a lot to learn), and how ideas come to me and unfold in different ways. I'm full of ideas-- at this very moment I have about five short stories and potential novels in the early stages of conception-- some have actually been begun, some are merely names and dates and locations written on a page. A lack of ideas is usually not the problem. In fact, I may have too many ideas, which often distract me from concentrating on just one thing at a time. (It's called 'scatterbrained'.) I come up with a story idea, and am usually convinced that this will be the on I'll actually finish....but then, I have years' worth of ideas written down in the pages of notebooks, snippets of novels that never came into being, and never once have I penned the last words of a novel. I haven't even come close, honestly. I come up with an idea, entertain it for a while, write out a loose outline (and when I say loose, I mean loose), and then, after a while, I lose my inspiration for that and move on to the next thing, which invariably follows the same sort of pattern. It can be very frustrating. And so I ask myself, am I just not cut out to be a writer? Will I ever settle down and stay focused on one thing long enough to see it completed to my satisfaction? Or am I just too scatterbrained and flighty?
My first dream as a little girl was to be a writer. I started writing stories when I was about six, and I filled notebook after notebook with stories based on characters my sisters and I had come up with while playing with our Barbie dolls. There was a series of three books, and I fully expected to write more. I considered myself a writer at an early age, and I knew this was what I wanted to always do. I knew it, my family knew it, lots of people I knew were aware of the fact: Emma is going to be an author someday.
I wrote several short stories and 'books' when I was around nine, ten and eleven-- most of which I can't find a trace of anymore, to my disappointment. Then when I got older I stopped writing as much. I still wrote some, but I wasn't all that sure anymore if I would actually become a writer, or if my writing of the previous years had been just some childish pastime. I was kind of indifferent on the matter for about a year or so, having decided that I might like to become a singer instead.
I think it was when I was thirteen that the flame was rekindled. I wanted to write, but I almost didn't know how anymore. I had ideas, but I was at a loss as to how to give them shape. I was wary of beginning something, because I knew I'd probably never finish it. So I guess you could say I just tinkered around with words for a while. I made up characters; I wrote scenarios, learned lots of new delicious words, but it didn't amount to much.
Then, slowly, I started writing more again. It really happened last summer, when I decided to go back to my old characters from those three books, a family called the Millers who lived on Prince Edward Island around the turn of the 20th century. It had potential. I knew the characters as well as if I'd grown up alongside them-- because I had. I could make it happen. That was when I really began to understand what being a writer meant.
Well, I still haven't finished a novel yet. I've learned so much in the last year, and I have so many ideas that I want to write about someday, but I'm still not quite there yet. However, I'm closer than I've ever been before. This Spring, from a sudden inspiration, on a complete whim with absolutely no idea where I was going with this, I started a simple story. It's the story of a nineteen-year-old girl living in a small rural town in the Midwest in 1910, who wants another kind of life and who has a dream of what she wants for her future. It was a vague premise, but five pages later I couldn't stop. This was it. This was a story I was going to write-- I could feel it in my bones. And you'll never believe what-- I have.
I'm not saying I've finished anything, so just hold your horses. The novel is not even half done, and what is done still needs a heap of revising. It's only 200 pages in an old black binder, and who knows what that'll amount to when it gets typed. But this is a huge milestone for me because now I feel I actually know what it is to take on a novel. It's no just a dream anymore; it's become more of a reality. I've been working seriously on it (well, most of the time) for almost three months, and I know I'll continue to because I just can't give it up now. I don't just think I'll finish it-- I know I will.
Anyway, I've been thinking about the different stages I often experience when struck with an idea, especially with this novel I'm working on now. The same pattern seems to have re-occurred with several things I've worked on in the past, and so I've decided to write them down in the order they occur.
This is just my personal experience as far as I know, though I'm sure I'm not the only one who has experienced these different stages of inspiration and discouragement. Not all writers have the same struggles, of course. All writers are different. Because all writers are weird. I'm sorry, but that's just the size of it.
Stage #1 Burning Excitement
Ideas for stories come in all sorts of crazy ways. You may read a book, see an old photograph, or be struck with an inspiration so suddenly that you're not sure what hit you. However the idea strikes, if you're a writer you probably know what I mean. Suddenly all these possibilities for a story fill your mind, and you know you have to write it down. Maybe it's just a short story; maybe it's a full-blown novel. For me, I knew I wanted to do this on a grand scale. As daunting as it was, I was going to write this novel, come high water or....well, you know. *ahem* Whenever I get an idea like this, it's incredibly exciting. You feel sure that this is the one-- this is the novel you were meant to write.
|Aren't they just adorable?!!|
Stage #2 The Honeymoon Stage
You're happy with your outline, your characters, and all you want to do is just write and write until this amazing story you have inside you can be put into words.
Stage#3 PeacetimeYou're very content with the way things are. You're working steadily on your novel, you have almost constant inspiration for plot details, twists ad turns and clever aspects of the story. You write as much as you can every day, and you just have this wonderful feeling that-- I'm going to finish this, and it's going to be amazing.
Stage #4 Stuck in the MudYou're novel has been coming along so well until now-- the story has been playing out nicely, you've written pages and pages of it that you're very pleased with and proud of. The words have just flowed out of you. You were in a good place for a while there, but now you feel....stuck. You're not sure where to take your story next, and you're afraid if you go on one impulse it might take the whole thing in the wrong direction. You press on, somewhat listlessly, but it's slow going, and you're not nearly as driven by inspiration as you were before.
Stage #5 Boredom/DistractionYou've been working on this story for months now. You have a pretty good idea of where it's going, and the characters have become like old friends, but....you're not sure why, you're just not feeling it anymore. Maybe the story has taken a wrong turn and you don't know how to get it back on the track you want. Maybe you're not feeling immersed in the story/era, and you want to go work on something else. You're just bored with it. There are so many other exciting ideas tumbling around in your mind, and you want to start writing something else that you actually have the inspiration for. So you set side your manuscript for a while and let it age, knowing you'll come back to it when the time is right.
Stage #6 The Returning Stage
You've taken a break from your novel. You've expelled some of your other pressing ideas, those inspirations that simply couldn't wait to be materialized, and now you've come full circle; you're ready to begin where you left off. You're not as on fire as you were when you first began your novel, perhaps, but you return to it with a calmer, more mature steadiness, knowing that however long it takes you, you ARE going to see this through. You WILL and finish this thing. :-)
These have been my feelings more than once, but mostly this is pertaining to my latest novel, because it's the only one I've ever gotten far enough to speak of with. So what say you, my writer friends? What are your struggles in this battle with the words? Do you ever experience some of the same stages