The foundation for a story is the preparation that happens prior. Unless you’re one of those rare and gifted few who can write complete and seamless prose and dialogue in one sitting, and odds are you aren’t, then you need to learn the art of preparation. No hard feelings, I can relate. Like with any professional or skillful endeavor, writers are also in need of the proper tools and know-how to facilitate the crafting of a story, and these tools tend to be developed over time rather than constructed on the spot. What works for someone else might not work for you and vice-versa, so discovering a process that fulfills your writing needs could result in several attempts and failures. Before I scare you away, remember that many important things happen during the preparation stage, from choosing and sticking to a schedule to conducting preliminary research, thus making it a stage that can’t be avoided.
Here are several tools that I’ve found helpful in my writing preparation process, and which may aid you in the discovery of your own.
- Find a time and place to write
Perhaps what writers struggle with most is getting anything down on paper, whether they think they are too busy to write or find that they are “blocked”. If you’ve read my piece on Writer’s Block, you should know that it is not a very good excuse. Writers confuse not being able to write with one of two things: a) not wanting to write, or b) not trying to write. Sound familiar? Luckily there is a remedy: write anything down, even if it’s nonsense. Pick a time when you feel you tend to be most inspired, whether it be after a morning run or before going to bed. Then find a comfortable place to sit down with your laptop and brew some coffee or tea if it helps you get into a creative zone. Remember, this step will only be beneficial if you make it a habit to write daily.
- Set a goal
Now that you’ve found a place and time to write, you’ll need to set up a daily or weekly goal. This can mean anything from writing 500 words a day to 10,000 words in a week. Make your goal reasonable and more importantly, stick to it. Start small. Adjust your goal if you find that you can’t achieve it even with effort, and on the other hand, incrementally add to it if you find the goal not challenging enough for you.
- You’ve struck Inspiration. What next?
It’s inevitable that while you’re writing a bunch of nothings you’ll eventually stumble upon something good to work with. What do you do with those little scraps and dabbles? Save them. Create a folder or a file, or several of them, and store them away. You should be saving everything you write anyway, but chances are you’ll have forgotten or misplaced a lot of it by the time you want to sit down and seriously delve into a story. Organize and label what you think you might use, even if you don’t.
Once you’ve racked up a good amount of work and have gotten organized, it’ll be time to evaluate and pick a project. Maybe it’s the emotive dabble you wrote last week, or perhaps the scribbles you jotted down hastily about a dream you had. You might not be looking to write a full story quite yet and instead want to try something short, like poetry or short fiction. In that case, think about which of your pieces can be reworked into something shorter and which can become something much larger. It’s also possible you aren’t interested in expanding on anything you’ve written yet, so go ahead and continue dabbling. As a writer you have the creative license to decide what you want to do or not with your work.
When you’ve chosen the piece you want to write it’s time to do a different kind of preparation: research. This stage is where you’ll start looking at elements such as characters, perspective, and setting, and while these tend to be subject to change, it’s important that you have a preliminary idea about who, what, when, where, and why. You’ll probably need to do some googling at this point, maybe check out some other writing for reference, and if you’re really invested you could even conduct some fieldwork.
Writing takes time, and a lot of us seem to not be able to have any of it. If you’ve followed my first two suggestions to the letter, then you’re already ahead of the game. What comes next is planning how to distribute your time when you have chosen a piece to expand upon. If you are writing short work, you might consider setting equal fractions of your time to focusing on your designated project and the other half to free write. If you’re working on a larger project, you may decide between dedicating all of your allotted writing time to it, or splitting your time (ex. 1:3) to make room for dabbling. You will probably have to adjust your writing goal at this point as well if you hope to complete your project by a deadline, but my advice for beginners is to not worry about that yet. Even professional writers can spend years perfecting a story, so take it easy.