This very awesome idea (which totally replaces the angry post I was writing about the problem with repeated descriptions) comes from Jeremy Morgan, who I believe a lot more of you should be hiring to read and edit your things. C’mon he’s got a family to take care of. Don’t let him, like, starve and stuff. That’s not cool.
Now I left a blank up in the post title because it doesn’t really matter what it is you’re making: a book, a movie, a television pilot, a statue, a big painting of celebrity navels, whatever – the initial steps of the process remain the same. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to talk about storycraft, but you can swap “book” with whatever it is you’re making.
We’ll also assume you’ve already thought of the idea in some capacity. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a title, or a scene or just some rough picture of something frozen in time. You’ve got a hook into SOME part of what will become the draft or rough sketch.
Step 1. Get the idea into another medium. For me, a lot of the ideas for things start off as thoughts in my head like, “What sort of music does a disenfranchised dudebro secretly listen to?” or “I wonder what would happen if you made a hot sauce built on a base of butterscotch and Indian peppers?” A lot of these ideas don’t go anywhere (like “Why don’t I own the complete filmography of Jason Statham?”), but the ones that do survive do so because I’ve done more than just think them. I usually say them aloud a few times, then copy them either onto a nearby steno pad or into a text file in my Dropbox called ‘Ideas For Later“. Translating the idea into some other form – even if you’re leaving yourself an audio note or a Vine or a whatever-chat the kids are doing these days helps it persist and be less of an ephemeral bubble drifting through your head in between thoughts of what to watch and what to eat.
Step 2. Give the idea a stick figure skeleton. No, not an actual stick figure, I mean, I guess you could do that if you wanted to storyboard it, which I guess is a combination of the this step and the next one below, but I mean this step to be about giving the idea a little spine and some limbs, and see if you still get fired up about it. If this is a story idea, think about one part of it (a character, a setting, a question it asks) and put words to it. If you’re writing a story about a corrupt judge and his sex addicted daughter, do they have names? Where do they live? Do they live well? Do they have secrets no one else knows? Use your base idea as a starting point, and come up with more details. Not loads more, just one or two that really stand out to you.
If Step 1 and Step 2 combined keep making you feel like this idea is a good thing to pursue, move onto step 3. If not, either scrap the idea or save it for later – you’ll never know when they pay off.
Step 3. Make a mess, then make an outline/blueprint/rough sketch/whatever. There are many great people who flip the two parts of this step, and that totally works for them, and I’m way more than envious about it. Is there such a thing as super-envy? I either just invented it or jumped on its bandwagon. I like to throw some words down on the page before I get serious about mapping something out. The first pages of something are a crash course in the idea’s survival skills. If I can write out a scene, or describe the picture in my head in more than a sentence, ideally a paragraph or four, and it’s not awful, it stays in active rotation among the things I’m working on. If it’s awful, I put it in a folder called “Graveyard” and hopefully harvest it later for parts when the next idea strikes. Once the premature idea has some paragraphs or description on it, I can sit down and more consciously outline it. Like so many other things, I outline in my own way. I’ve talked about outlines before, but I never really thought about THE ACT of the outline as anything other than some horse-apples people say you’re supposed to do. And yes, maybe that rigid “outline” they teach you in school is crap on a stick. But the note card trick? Using Fate Core? All outlines. Don’t tell old me that I’ve been outlining all along, that guy doesn’t need the stress.
Step 4. Schedule an appointment. I’m totally stealing this idea from my local Honda dealer and their awful website. My car is due for an oil change and an inspection, so I thought these were things I could schedule via their website. Instead I found the most mansplain-y videos and how-tos on how to change your own oil, change a tire and when you need to call for a big man with greasy hands to take of a problem for you (right ladies? we can’t be worrying our pretty little heads when we should be in that kitchen fixing dinner, right? — seriously, those videos suck). I ended up calling the service desk directly and after a rousing version of mariachi Barry Manilow, got my appointments. The idea of scheduling makes my division of time easier. So too for writing. If I know that tomorrow I’m going to be writing another scene involving a recovering addict named Saturday who breaks a guy’s hand for making homophobic comments at his favorite bar, I can look forward to that, and ballpark that the scene in my head (the scene that’s gone through this exact process already) should take me about an hour or so to get down in the shape I think it’s in. The rest of my day can then get sliced up into time spent editing, designing and some errands best done when it’s going to be in the mid-70s.
Is there a fifth step? Yes.
Step 5. Create. Create regularly. Feed your word-beasts. Yes, sometimes the words are a trickle and other times they’re a raging flood. But you won’t know which it is until you’re tapping those keys or moving that pen. Work on that sketch. Test out that recipe. Edit those photos. Work on your dance moves. What’s that? You don’t want to? I thought you said you wanted to make something. The idea’s not interesting anymore? Then have a new idea and start back up at the top. That’s not it, you say? You just “Don’t wanna”? Am I allowed to make clucking noises at you? Hey, if you want to procrastinate, I can’t stop you. If you want to prop up a billion illusory fleeting “reasons” (read: excuses) as to why creating this thing slips further and further down your To-Do list, that’s not something you have to justify to the guy on the internet. That’s all you and your commitment. Which will continue to be the subject of many posts to come.
Let me leave you with one last idea: Writers write. Creators create. You have to invest your guts and soul and courage onto and into the thing you’re making. Be brave. Be honest. Art hard.