I used to write blindly – no idea where a piece was going, what length I was shooting for, what type of story or book it was going to be, what the storyline actually was…nothing planned. While the spontaneity had its perks, I rarely finished anything. These days, I do free writes from time to time, writing whatever comes to mind, as a way to purge, as a brainstorming tool, to make connections and associations – in short, to get the advantages of spontaneity without the commitment to making it be a story.
And when I sit down to a project, I know what I want from it. I don’t plan for every turn of events, don’t outline beyond a rough arc and a few spots of tricky or intricate turns, but I do have some idea of how I want things to end up, and a few of the places I want the story to go through along the way. I also tend to decide, ahead of time, on what kind of story I want to be writing. Not necessarily genre (my stuff tends to be weird amalgamations of bent genres fused together into its own thing), but I’ll have in mind, say, High Concept Zany Adventure, With Funny Bits In. (That would be The Life & Death (But Mostly the Death) of Erica Flynn, by the way.) Or Uplifting Post-Apocolyptic Story, With Rabbit. (Short story in progress, as well.)
For me, setting a few ground rules actually opens up possibilities rather than limiting my ideas. Having a direction, something to aim for, makes me look at the broad horizon of the storyline as a whole, rather than plugging along paragraph by paragraph, missing the forest for the trees, working only with what I have written rather than looking at what I can write next.
There are many times I find myself borrowing metaphors from the process of making visual art as a way to look at writing. The worst part of starting any art project, for me, is the blank page. Endless possibility is weirdly inhibiting. Blocking off a few shapes helps you start looking at what you do know needs to go into the piece.
Having a little definition, really knowing what you want a piece to be, goes a long way – at least for me. If I have a clear sense of what I’m aiming for, everything starts to flow. I know what kind of things I want to have happen, what fits, what won’t, what I need to happen and how to make it work with the tone instead of against it, where some relief is needed if the story is getting to heavy or where some darkness is necessary if it’s getting too silly and off-the-wall.
So I will keep doing free writes when I’m stuck, need ideas, or am between projects, but I will also set some clear markers for myself when I sit down to really work on something…because that’s how I get things done.