The thing about writing is this: there will never be a perfect time to write. Life, if we’re lucky, keeps happening. Relationships demand attention. Bills need paying. Laundry needs doing. Kids need … well, everything. And somewhere in there we also hope for a creative muse to show up and guide the way. Occasionally we get lucky. We get an idea, find time to write and when we sit down it all flows effortlessly. But usually not.
For me, it often starts with an Idea. It bursts in, interrupts whatever I’m doing and demands my immediate attention or it threatens to leave me. In a desperate attempt to hang on, I’ll scribble some notes in my phone, hoping that will suffice and my Idea won’t leave me for someone else.
I used to be a lot more clingy in this stage of the process, but I’ve discovered that the inciting idea isn’t as rare as I’d once imagined. Also, a truly great Idea won’t just leave me.
An Idea is different from an idea. An idea can be a set of circumstances or characters that are initially intriguing. Like a Monet, when seen from far away they have form and structure. They look clear. But with a lot of these ideas, when it comes to character and world building—when big questions require specific answers—they break down. They can’t stand that level of scrutiny. There is simply too much empty space. It’s missing pixels. It can only handle a certain amount of zoom before it stops looking real and becomes indistinct bits of information.
And this is where the real work begins. The real work entails sitting with the Idea, giving it time and space to percolate. Filtering it through the myriad of scenarios that pop into my head during the day. Letting the Idea tag along with me, picking up pixels that fit along the way. With every new pixel the Idea comes into sharper focus.
While this part of the process often feels like procrastinating I have come to accept the fact that it is not. Not that it can’t be. I have spent time at Procrastination Station and expect to stop through there again. It’s got games and social media and things to organize. Plus it has the best snacks and coffee. Like a big night out, it’s a good time. For a little while. But eventually you’ll feel the hangover and what used to be shiny will be too bright to look at in your sensitive state. So for me, when I’m not there, but not yet writing, I know what I need. I need to see my Idea in focus before I can begin writing. My muse isn’t a fan of the Barbara Walters soft focus filter. My muse prefers HD.
Sometimes my muse gets what she wants. But a lot of the time, even after an idea has time to percolate and a lot of answers have been given to the vital Who, What, When, Where and Why’s she sits around pouting as I stare at the blank screen. She just doesn’t feel like working. This is the part that writers everywhere have advised about. This is the part where, to be a writer, the only thing you absolutely have to do is write. There is no substitute for persistence. Even if you only get a single paragraph a day, if you are persistent, you will eventually finish.
The only way forward is one word at a time. And the persisting faith of a writer comes from—even in these dark moments when every word is a struggle—believing that there will be a moment when the words will flow. When that happens it is absolute bliss. It’s a feeling like no other. When every thought in my head flows through my fingertips to the page, the story coming to life before my eyes, it feels like I’m doing everything right. Like I was made to do exactly what I’m doing in this exact moment. It feels like cosmic perfection. So for me, I know that I have to be ready and open to ride that current for as long as it’ll carry me, whenever it’ll have me. I’ll keep going when it’s gone, but I’ll never forget the bliss. And I’ll never stop chasing it.
That is what it is to be a writer.