A lot of writers like to play “what if?” when they’re coming up with something. Struggling an idea into fruition is a strange and unique process for each individual. Stephen King, in his masterpiece On Writing, tells the reader his creative process is a lot of “what if?” questioning as he hammers the idea out in his head. I’m sure there are a lot of writers who do something like that to formulate their plot skeletons.
King, while asking those questions, also describes stories not as created things we fashion in our minds, but as artifacts we discover like artistic archeologists. We plum the depths of the earth beneath our mental feet until we find a tidbit, a nugget, and we unearth it with spades, pickaxes, trowels, dusting brushes and finally toothbrushes, careful to remove every available scrap of the recoverable discovery until we at last have the skeleton complete and whole before us. There’s something to that, really; this explains the way a story will run away with the writer and become a thing of its own, taking on new dimensions and aspects or directions never conceived of in the mind behind the keyboard or pen. At the same time … that’s a load of crap.
We’re writers. We come up with ideas. We create. We labor. I know it’s a cool analogy and I like that it shows how a story can take a writer places the author never thought the story would go, because he couldn’t see the entirety of the piece lying beneath the “earth” of the dig site, but it’s … no. Not really. That removes the creative gift God gave us to be unique and to display His glory through our ability to utilize and nurture those gifts. I don’t think I’m unclear on where I stand with this.
But that doesn’t deny divine intervention and guidance in writing either. I know for a fact I’ve been stumped or plodding in my stories and had a sudden idea, a revelation if you will, that steps the story forward in a way I didn’t anticipate but is much better than what I would’ve done on my own. Still, I am the brain with the imagination seated in it, I am the fingers behind the keyboard, and I am the vessel containing the words which spill out into the manuscript as it forms.
And while I myself never asked “what if?” to start a story rolling on its merry way, to start the pulse, I have had images, snapshots and snippets of larger pictures that came clear when I started to transcribe them. I’m one of the writers who believes I watch movies in my mind and simply jot down what I see, what I hear, the scenery and characters and dialog all there if I can just type fast enough. Sometimes my mental remote allows for a pause or rewind button, but sometimes it doesn’t, either. I just go as best I can and capture what I can while I can.
If you’re a writer, what do you do to start the creative process rolling? What games do you play with your own mind, what things spark the growth of that living organism in you that becomes a work of art, an idea which erupts forth and blooms like a sapling rushing for the sunlight before the canopy of life can choke out the warmth and rays?
Sound off, y’all.
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