Yesterday I talked about the importance of blending passion with planning, and today I want to resume along that same wavelength. Yesterday’s entry closed with my five steps for carrying through with a project. They were:
An idea hits me over the head. Taking a blog post as an example, I might be walking to the car in the morning and contemplating what someone said to me on the elevator. Or behavior that someone exemplified on a TV show the night before. The genesis of the idea isn’t always that important – what is important is that my brain pulls the myriad loose stones bouncing around in my head into a neat little cairn. This cairn will form the foundation of what is to come. I get the idea down in some form – typically voice recording.
This step, while not key, is also pretty damned important. A great deal of the shaping of how something will turn out starts here. Continuing down the path of the blog entry, I’ll start mulling over other examples that might have occurred to me, or how I would word a certain concept. Whole sentences and even paragraphs start to form in my mind, and I shape those before capturing them in any other form. I’m a visual thinker, so this is often carried out in the form of imagining a conversation or a monologue. Depending on the scale of the project, this step can take quite some time as I refine the idea. At some point, I’ll capture the extra details, either in voice recording format or, more often, written somewhere. I prefer Evernote, but Google Docs is also a great tool for this step.
Things get trickier at this point. Here is where the real meat starts – time to figure out just how you’re going to execute. For a novel, this means that I start putting the concepts that I’ve been bouncing around in a coherent order – usually outlining the story. At one point this was an exceedingly comprehensive process, in which I would determine the shape that the plot’s structure would take, and start draping plot elements over that structure in order to create a coherent whole. These days I’ve internalized that process enough to trust myself to work from a very loose outline, allowing for lots of swerving – though I reserve the right to go back to this, especially if I write something like a mystery.
This step has blended with Step 4 as time goes on. I suspect they’ll soon just become one step. When planning a blog idea, this step is far simpler: lay out the ideas that will eventually be fleshed out (for instance, logical section breaks). Once those are down, time to move on to Step 4.
Step 4: Execution
Of course, the key step. Actually setting pen to paper, or keys to screen. You know just what I mean. The point where the outline starts getting turned into the story. Where the blog post gets written. All the heavy lifting happens here. Sometimes I ease into this Step, fleshing out small concepts in increasing detail as I go. Sometimes I drive right in, just filling up the blank screen as quickly as I can. Your mileage may vary. My biggest piece of advice, though, is to put the pedal to the metal and get as much down as fast as you can. I don’t edit during this phase unless I need to get back into the flow of the story, and I don’t worry about how perfect things may or may not be. First drafts are made to be messy.
Last, but of course not least, is the clean-up process. Or Follow-Up. Editing. Crossing the T’s, dotting the I’s, whatever you want to call it. There was a time when this meant seven drafts of a story – scrutinizing every single sentence. In my new paradigm this is a holistic process:
- Read-through with no editing, spoken out loud
- Check for content – unanswered questions, dangling threads
- Single grammar pass
- One last spell-check