Sunday, May 3, 2009

Immediate Attention or Gestation Period?

You know this feeling: a set of thoughts and ideas begin to sparkle, they come together and shine at you, saying, 'This is the beginning of the best story you've ever produced!'

After that feeling strikes, how long do you give it before committing something to prose?

I've read loads of times that writers should carry around a notepad and a pen, both for occasions as described above, and for picking up tidbits, snippets of conversation, or mannerisms, or anything else that catches their eye while they're out and about.

In principle, I think yes, it sounds like a good idea to carry around pen and paper for just such occasions. In reality, though, I think doing so would be mildly embarrassing, and rather pretentious, so I've never done that. But I accept that it'd be helpful to the sort of person who wants to get new ideas immediately committed to prose, or at least note form.

So, yes, you have an idea. A new idea. A very shiny idea. How long do you leave it before starting to write?

Do you allow the idea/s to gestate and develop, to mature into something reliable and worthy? Or do you capture the flow of enthusiasm as soon as it strikes and start writing immediately?

I tend to toss ideas around for a few days, maybe less if there's a lot to it -- it's a novel idea, say, with good characters and a few cracking opening scenes. If an idea hits with that amount of 'already figured'ness, I'll give it a quick journey from inception to ink.

But less developed ideas, or short story ideas, or scene snippets and stuff, they can be mulled over for a while before I tap into the flow and get something down. Like a testing period, in many ways, I'll examine and re-visit the idea in my mind before focusing on it as a writing project.

I've tried writing 'immediate' style, of course, but to my mind, the 'gestate' method produces better results.

What are your experiences with this?


Heidi C. Vlach said...

I don't usually get enough of a novel idea at once to just jump on it and start writing. So I write down all my bits of ideas in one Notepad file. Looking at all of them in one place makes it easier to match ideas together and form a rich overall story.

And I do carry pen and paper, but it's more for worldbuilding than anything. Waiting for an appointment goes quicker when I'm fine-tuning the rules of magic.

Bonnie said...

I think in words, especially in the written word, so writing things down is part of how I think things through. Not to mention that an entire novel is more than I can keep in my head at one time. So I definitely carry a notebook (many notebooks -- tucked in my wallet, in the pocket of my ski coat, in my golf bag, in odd corners of the car...) and write down things frequently. Much of it gets thrown out eventually but at least it's there to work with.

Ink said...

I am, most definitely, a gestater. By the time, say, I start a novel project, the idea (in one form or another) has generally been around for months or years. I find there's a sort of slow build, a gathering of an idea's momentum that eventually forces me to start writing. Starting is hard... the rest is usually downhill. But an idea needs a certain weight for me. It has to have it's own gravity pull me into persistent orbit. A new idea, while exciting, usually doesn't have that pull. It's hard to tell how good it is, or even if I know it's good it won't be complete enough to start writing.

I think that completeness is part of it, too. I usually don't write something until I have the full idea in mind - that is, it will have a beginning, middle and end. Lots of room for surprises, still, but I want a story, not a fragment, not a beginning or hook or premise... I want a story.

I'm guessing a lot of the "Write it right now" club are probably also part of the "Make it up as you go along" club. I'm guessing that way has its own benefits and charms, but it's not for me. I'm not really interested in writing forty pages and then having no idea what happens anywhere after that. So, for me, I want a full story, and that story has to have a certain weight. If I forget about it in a week it probably wasn't that great to begin with.

A novel takes a lot of energy to write, over a long period of time. I have to, in a sense, be obsessed with this story for a nice chunk of my life. So I need that sense of momentum and weight. To me, that gives the story drive and sustaining power. It's not a fizzle. It's been building in my head for months or years, and by the time I start writing it has the necessary metaphysical bulk.

Part of the gestation thing, too, is that it allows disparate ideas to come together and form something better than each individual thing on its own. Hard to do if you write that first flash of idea out immediately (at least for me).

Which is not to say one way is better than the other. Every writer has to find what works for them. For me, definitely a gestation period seems an organic part of the process. Even short stories usually take a bit of time from conception to writing, though sometimes they can be fairly quick. Usually, there's still a period of conscious and unconscious thought, letting the nuances develop and play themselves out inside my head. Details are important to me - they allow me to make something real, something vivid - and those details usually take time. More time, at least, than the main idea or premise.

I mostly rely on memory, but I do jot down the basics of ideas sometimes, just so I have them down in a little collection. Title, idea, maybe a few ideas as they come to me, occasionally a line or two that's come to me so perfectly that I didn't want to forget the proper sequence and construction. Other than that I just let the ideas float around in the attic, collecting dust or phantoms depending on viability. Yes, the good ones haunt me...