Guess what, my dear readers?
I, Alex, the writer who often develops new ideas to write but rarely ever finds the motivation to actually do the thing, has started a new original story at last! And this time, it’s one that I got the idea for out of non-forced inspiration and I am actually determined to finish!
Perhaps it’s really true that a change of surroundings or a change in pace is all it takes to kick-start the imagination. I recently spent a week in Hilton Head Island in South Carolina before school started back, on vacation with my parents. While having no private bedroom and constantly running around for a week had the unfortunate side-effect of me wanting to spend the entire week afterward doing nothing and talking to no one, there were some definite upsides to a new environment. Perhaps the most important was that I started journaling again. That got me used to writing a little every day, no matter what it was. It was the last night of the trip, when I was down at the beach for one last visit, that the aforementioned perfect story idea came to me, along with the first lines of the story itself.
However, for me most of the time, writing isn’t nearly as easy as staring out at the ocean until inspiration strikes out of the blue. To illustrate this, here’s an in-depth look at my complete writing process:
1) Realize that you haven’t written anything that’s not fanfiction in over six months.
Obviously there’s nothing wrong with writing fanfiction – I LOVE fanfics, reading them and writing them, and consider them a completely legitimate form of storycrafting. However, I also love branching out into writing my own, original ideas too…and shortly before I left for vacation, I looked back at the past year and realized that I had hardly written anything not using pre-existing characters at all. Whoops.
2) Take a peek into your latent imagination and realize that you have too many ideas and half-finished concepts buzzing around to organize.
Of course, it’s not like I didn’t have ideas – it’s just that I had too many of them! Most of my original writing is fantasy, the almost literal definition of “anything goes.” I had old, half-written or just-started stories I could go back and expand on, of course, but my thought process and styles of writing and characterization had changed so much since starting them that I couldn’t pick them back up easily.
4) Cry. (Repeat steps 3 and 4 as needed.)
5) Find a muse and latch onto it for dear life. Pray to any and all deities you can think of that something happens, and then forget all about your lack of inspiration.
For me, being somewhat musical-minded person, this muse was losing myself in my favorite metal band, Nightwish. There’s nothing quite like pounding percussion, dramatic orchestrations and poetic lyrics to pull you out of the real world and into your own mind. I listened to “Ghost Love Score”, “Ever Dream”, and “She Is My Sin” on a nearly constant repeat during my morning beach runs. The beautiful atmosphere helped clear my cluttered imagination just as much as the music did. Eventually, I decided to put my desperation to write something out of my mind and enjoy my vacation. The only scenes I thought up for most of the week was whatever blipped through my mind while I was listening to music or reading, and I promptly relegated most of them to my subconscious or jotted them down in my journal and left them alone.
6) When the perfect moment strikes – you’ll know when it is – write something down, anything, and build upon it if it sticks.
Now we’re right back where we started: that last night of vacation. I was standing on the shore, nearly completely alone in the dusk, letting the waves rush up over my feet and breathing in the clear air. It was so peaceful, and I wasn’t even thinking of anything in particular, but rather allowing my mind to drift. A lyric from “Ghost Love Score” ended up surfacing: “We used to swim the same moonlight waters, oceans away from the wakeful day”. Interesting, I thought. I let the song continue in my mind, let it bleed into another, and gradually my thoughts tapered back into stillness.
The moment my mind drifted to the possibility of going back inside, something in my intuition told me NO. This was the opportunity for inspiration I had waited for, I realized. I pulled out my cell phone and began to type whatever came to mind in a blank text, beginning with the sensory details I was observing in the moment:
“The surf lapped at her feet; an invitation, a tease, a caress to coax her into deeper, cleansing waters. The light of the almost-full moon, muted by a thin cover of clouds, caught and glinted on the surf. Her little world ended here. An infinitely vast one, terrifying and beautiful, lay beyond.”
“Her”? I had a subject now. Who was she? She wasn’t me anymore, that was for sure. What was she thinking? Why was she where she was? Shuffling around some pre-researched symbolism for the setting quickly provided that: water is an element of purification, change, healing, and death.
“The waves crashed a bit higher against her bare ankles, a gentle tug – “Come,” they whispered, “here you may rest calm.” The only rest that awaited her in the sea was death, but the thought of being rocked into sleep and forgetfulness by the waves was a sweet one.”
That was as far as I got while still standing on the shore, but that was all I needed. With those two paragraphs hastily typed into my cell phone, I now had an infinite amount of questions about this premise I’d created. What exactly does this character want to forget? Why? What’s her story? Who’s in her circle? How does she identify? By the time I’d finished the walk back to the hotel, I had narrowed the answers to those questions down considerably. Case in point, I now have an urban fantasy underway, starring a female lead, a female love interest, and a male tritagonist. It’s going to explore things such as the nature of depression, the value of both romantic and platonic love, and underrepresented sexual and romantic orientations. (Also there’s going to be dragons and sirens and adventures and stuff.) And this year, I’m going to make time to work on it during school!
The moral of this story: the creative writing process is only about 10% actual writing! The rest is panicking, staring at a computer screen blankly, listening to the same music over and over, and eventually getting inspiration at the most unlikely time that you feel like head-desking because why couldn’t it have come SOONER? But then again, that’s just my method.
For any of my readers who are also writers, I’m sure you all have more efficient writing processes than I do. Share in the comments below and help me get through writing this story with my sanity intact. For more updates about my writing, reading habits, and other creative exploits, feel free to follow my blog!