A small step in the process I skipped earlier is important to mention. As you’re asking questions and considering options, your creativity may start running ahead and leading you along, and all you have to do is go after it. That’s a beautiful process.
But what if you don’t find that flow right away? Or what if you’re not sure about the idea itself? Or about a certain new aspect you find, such as that kind of protagonist or that villain motivation or that series structure?
What I rarely hear writers talk about is the element of choice in creativity. Maybe most writers never really have to choose their ideas or their story elements; maybe everything just comes to them and they never doubt it or they never have more than one option in mind. But I constantly find myself having to actively choose a project and then constantly making more choices along the way.
And the biggest choice is whether or not to take the leap and see this idea through, as it is in your mind. For me, this moment occurs just as I begin developing more details of the idea, but while it’s still fairly vague. I have the overall shape of the plot, the identity of the protagonist (but usually almost no one else), the setting, and a list of influences to guide me—but I’ve reached the point where I’ll start having to make more specific choices. Who are the other characters she meets? What is the specific plot point here? How does she find out that bit of information in order to make that choice?
As you make choices to develop different aspects of the story, you are shutting out other choices. And you’re also committing to whatever you choose, even when it’s unoriginal or illogical or silly or maybe just not as good as you want it to be. The vague idea-shape is suddenly becoming an actual story, and sometimes it just isn’t pretty.
So as a part of my process, I find myself hovering anxiously just before making that leap from idea to story. From a vague shape to a specific plot. From an unknown (but of course lovable) cast to actual characters and personalities and histories.
Because I know from my history that after this point, everything falls apart. As I make choices, doubt spirals open up and swallow the idea whole, destroying it entirely. The vague idea is perfect, while the specific story is crap. And yet the vague idea can never exist, can never be shared, can never be sold, and so it has to become the specific story in order to live.
Taking the leap into the story is no guarantee of commitment, as I have seen again and again—that’s its own process, and though I’ve tried to describe it on this blog several times, I have yet to master it. But the leap itself is the only way to get the story started on its way to being finished, so you have to start making choices and developing the idea into a story into a draft.
Remember that perfection is impossible. Remember that it’s just for the first draft, and you can make different choices in the second draft. Remember that your choices may manifest themselves less than perfectly at first, but with revision and craft you can make them better. Remember that you’d rather be an imperfect writer than nothing at all. Remember that other published books aren’t perfect either (it helps to have a few really horrible published works in mind, or to remind yourself that you can always self-publish).
Remember all that, and take the leap.