As writers, we all want that first spark of an idea. It’s something we search for as we’re in between projects. The biggest piece of advice I feel I can give you is to stop looking for it. Just stop.
I know you’re probably asking yourself why I would suggest this in the first place because as writers, it’s something we want to look for. Hear me out, the best stories come from ideas born in the most random of moments. I used to write stories that I forced myself to come up with ideas on, and I’m going to be honest, those are works that remain unfinished to this day.
Some of the best writing advice I’ve ever received has been from V.E. Schwab from them just talking on her Instagram about the writing process they utilize. It’s so fascinating to listen to her speak about it, and one of the best pieces is their cooking metaphor.
Your idea is a spark (or rather, a first ingredient) and it’s placed into a pot on the stove. Once you have that first ingredient, place that cover back on and let it simmer. While it’s on the back burner, let those ideas stew and gather strength. I’ve found that this is the best way to let a story grow.
I actually used this with Serpenvie. I was working on a book I eventually shelved (for now), and I was hit with an idea when I was watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It was Summer 2021, and I’d just discovered how much I was fascinated by the character evolution of Draco Malfoy. He was all I could think about, and eventually, as I was watching the films, an idea struck.
I didn’t immediately dive into the writing process as I normally do. I let the idea sit there, and while at work or doing random chores, I’d ask myself random questions about these brand new characters and the world they’d live in. Each question answered was a new flavor uncovered. I’d keep doing this until I had enough meat to work my story.
I find this method to also be one of the most fun and rewarding parts of writing as of late. It makes the idea exciting, and every time I add to my bullet point of an outline, I can see the world forming and the story I want to tell begin to unfold.
When I start a project, I never know what I want to say with a particular piece of work. I find that out after I’ve written it, and I think going into the project with just plain ideas is a good way to start. I think having a clear message of “I want to tell a story about body image” is going to put a block on your work because it’s all you’ll think about when brainstorming. I always look at something like that as an instance of where can I make that stronger in the editing process, and move from there. You’re brainstorming for the first draft, and those are things that you are fully able to tweak.
Once I had that initial spark of an idea, I decided to head face first into letting the ideas come and hit me. When I am at work, I try not to be on my phone since it’s a physical job, but I always have a notepad (for work things, but ideas for books also find a home in there). So while I was at work, I would use that block of time to sit and ponder plot points and ask myself “what if” questions. I would go character by character, come up with new characters, etc. I think this really added to the story because I was able to answer questions I don’t normally have.
I didn’t sit down and just force the ideas to come out of me, and I think that made the biggest difference in the world. I was able to let the layers and complexities of this story unfurl and reveal themselves in a natural and organic way. It was so worth the efforts.
While letting that idea simmer and unfurl, I also let myself create pinterest boards. I set up a whole board and make tons of sections to place specific elements to a character/aesthetic. It helps me get a better idea for who my characters are and just adds a nice little bow on top of the characters I’m slowly beginning to know.
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