by Laura Michelle Thomas, jaBlog! Senior Editor
Part one of a six-part series on the steps of the writing process which Laura teaches in her book Polly Wants to Be a Writer: The Junior Authors Guide to Writing and Getting Published and the Polly writing workbooks.
Writing a first draft is easy when you have something to say. It’s brutal when you don’t. That’s why sometimes, when the cogs stop turning, it might be better to hire yourself out as a writer and focus on writing down someone else’s idea while you wait for your creative mind to lurch back to life. But if you are determined to come up with a good idea today, despite being stalled or jammed, here are some tips that will grease the cogs and wheels and get you started on your next writing project.
Calm down. Unless you are a reporter up against a deadline, you don’t need to come up with the ultimate idea right at this moment. For all you know, a good idea is two hours or tw0 weeks or tw0 months around the corner. You just need to keep living your life and it will come.
Be realistic. There is no “ultimate” idea; there is no “good” idea. The value of any idea is subjective. For example, you might think it’s really important to write about the upcoming federal election in Canada, while I might think that’s not worth writing about at all. You might be crazy about fashionista romances, while I’m nuts about literary dragons. You need to like your idea and want to go full steam into it.
Don’t force a boring idea. Only your teachers and employers can make you write about stuff you find dull. When it comes to your own creative work, you’re the shift boss. Toss away ideas that bore you.
You have to care about your idea in order to move to the next step. It’s really easy to spot a writer who doesn’t really care about the idea he or she is toying with. How do I know? First, the idea never gets out of the idea stage, which means the first draft is either not started or forever unfinished. Second, the writer is not writing.
Don’t get stuck on an idea. One sure thing about ideas is that they lead to other ideas. Once you start writing into your idea, you might find that after a few turns of the imagination that you have come up with an idea that excites you even more. Let the first idea go and see where the new one takes you.
What to do when you have an idea. Write about it. Doodle, sketch, play. Write an introduction, a character description, a setting, the ending. Write down words that connect you to it. Talk about it. Journal it. Read about it. Write all your thoughts about it down: type or use a pencil, pen, crayon, whatever works for you. Let the idea show you where it wants to go. Chase it. Write it.
Turn off your literary dragon. The idea stage is not the time for your internal editor to start clogging up the turning and whirring and burning of your creative gears. Send your literary dragon away for now and have fun with your idea. This is playtime at its best for writers, and if you don’t let yourself enjoy it, you’ll find it almost impossible live up to your literary potential.