This week we asked Entropy contributors about their process when starting a new writing project. How do you get ideas for writing projects? How do you figure out what form they will take? How do you begin? How do you prepare?
My process is something like: reading, listening, and watching tons of books/music/film until a few different details from a few different genres begin to coalesce together in my mind. Then I just think about those ideas, turning them over in my mind in thousands of different ways for months. Then sitting down, eventually, and beginning to write to see whether this Frankenstein of influences is ready to take its shape. In terms of prep, once I have a few really defined interests/aesthetics (ie, for my current project: outer space travel, anti-abortion crusaders, the aesthetics of Pebbles Flinstone and Ren and Stimpy) I fall into lots of research wormholes and just engage, engage, engage those ideas, hoping they’ll find a place in my brain to all talk to each other, and try and translate that to a page.
I tend to have a bunch of what I call, “novel fetuses” sitting around my iCloud that are basically underdeveloped novellas in need of fleshing out. These see can sit for many years and who knows when they will ever completed. I go back to different ones at each NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNoWriMo and seriously focus on expanding and revising the fragments into an actual book. I work on a few books at the same time rotating between projects to keep my editing eyes fresh. The most recent new book I started a few months ago came after a night when I thought I was going to drown in my sleep in the Reno floodpocalypse then miraculously didn’t. I became intrigued by the thought of “What IF?” the aliens I had prayed to to avert Earth from disaster actually had intervened after all. That book is sill a fetus too but hopefully in later years will grow up.
I read a million academic papers in different disciplines to find some kind of underlying pattern in what interests me about them. I then use that to think about what I want the project to be about.
Dennis James Sweeney
God I wish I knew what my process was! Usually an idea will occur to me and I’ll try to get it on paper before it becomes dull or silly or terrible, and I can tell from the first couple pages if it’s going to be worth pursuing or not. I start new books somewhat frequently, but only write a couple pages and then realize that they’re the worst thing ever. Every once in a while an idea comes along that actually looks decent when it’s on the page. And then I try to stick with it–follow it, but not too closely. I try to stay interested and uncertain until I reach some kind of end.
I just starting writing a new book for the first time in YEARS. Usually my process is to basically vomit words onto the page in a free for all for as long as possible and then edit 1000 times over years and years. This time I did very careful pre writing and world building and I even did a dreaded outline! Who am I? I am extremely nervous but I’m also so excited to be inside a new world. Update: Even with all the outlining and prewriting this first draft is still an incoherent mess.
It varies depending upon the project. Sometimes, like Jeremy, inspiration is serendipitous and the momentum carries itself. Other times, the project emerges from the failure of another (and often more carefully planned-out) project to bear its own weight. The projects I’m working on right now are both the result of deliberate desire (or ambition) and surrender to the happenstance of constraint. That is, both projects came about after I submitted to a prompt I had designed for creative writing workshops I’d been leading. The prompts were designed to get writers thinking about specific issues of craft (how metaphors work; how to deploy the power of persona and address / apostrophe), but the actual writing — as usual — exceeded this intent. From there, my practice has been a matter of following the implications and entailments of the work itself, and as far as they fill let me (or I can keep up). There’s hardly any way to optimize the process, but, at the end of the day / the close of business, I write in order to figure out what it is I’m writing about.
(Ideas) usually comes from something I hear or read that hits me in another context…. or something hits me as an interesting area to explore…the new book hit me as memory as ephemera.
For my book of essays I had pages and pages and pages of notes on all of the possible subjects and some of those pages had lumps of useful prose and some didn’t. One essay came of its own accord while the others have been much more difficult to pull together because this is a linked set of essays. I will probably let go of the linking structure bit by bit as I go further through the process, and drop a high number of subjects, but this process has been very helpful.
I usually mull over a book, or even a story, for 1-3 years before I get going (poetry I just sort of cough up) but then with both it’s like Sara’s first process: I build a world and then I vomit it all up at a high page count and then I beg people to tell me what are the most boring and impenetrable parts and then I revise until the very idea of the book makes my innards twist like a pretzel. Then I lurch into the new book I’ve been mulling over. The problem now since I might as well bloat this because I am supposed to be doing other stuff is that some world-building over five years went kaboom and I built enough overlapping worlds that probably all my fiction for the next 20-30 *years* will be shards of one long and totally insufferable uber-novel. Which is why I’m writing non-fiction right now: dim light at end of long tunnel.