Q&A Blog

Ask me anything, I'll answer.

@GeekAndDad asks...

My question is about creative writing. I routinely get a first creative burst zoomed out onto the paper (ok, into the computer usually) and then don't really know what to do next. Sometimes I have the whole story, sometimes just some of the key pieces (because it went by so fast in my head that I couldn't write fast enough to capture it all).

So, what's the next step and how do you approach the work that follows that initial creative burst? What's a good strategy for taking it from there to polished completed piece?

I'm going to be perfectly honest here and tell you, I'm still working through this myself. But my current approach is has about three prongs to it, like one of those fancy forks. (Maybe that’s three separate approaches?)
Let’s exchange where we’re at!

Approach #1:
Have a REAL deadline. For me, this usually only happens when someone has asked me to write something and they give me an actual deadline to deliver against. I love this because I know I can do it. There’s some sort of reward at the end (like getting paid and/or published!) And that awesome sense of accomplishment for having completed something.
Left to my own devices (or self-imposed deadlines), I’ll let my mind wander on and on and I’ll write but nothing really has a beginning or an end... it is mostly just a blob of thought poked out into a digital document. :/
A deadline forces me through a brainstorming and initial thought flow process (or two, or three) until I feel like I’ve got enough “bones” to put a proper piece together. Then it’s filling out the the rest, so that it reads a bit more suitable for actual humans. The downfall of this for me so far has been that self-imposed deadlines are virtually worthless. So I struggle with this, and that has led me to a couple other explorations. 

Approach #2:
I’m approaching a little bit like marathon training. Bursts, build-ups and long runs are all hugely important but what I found to be the thing that actually got me through training for and completing a full marathon was having a training partner. I started with one and by the end there were five of us. Having a training partner held me accountable. I had at least one person expecting me to be at checkpoint-charlie at 3:30am in order to get that 16 miles in before the Las Vegas sun heated things up to 110 F by 7am. 
I’ve always wanted to try this: http://nanowrimo.org/ but in all honesty, I'm a little nervous about doing it. But this seems like an awesome exercise to push through a full writing process.
Another thing I’ve more recently stumbled upon is Editorially - which seems like a pretty awesome tool for doing some collaborative writing, regardless of it being feedback only, encouragement based or actual co-writing.

Approach #3:
Question & Answer, or prompt writing. This is something that has allowed me to continue exercising as a writer, without getting stuck on having no idea what to write about. :D  This style has you writing in small but complete bursts. That exercise alone seems like the right path to getting something of fuller length out there in the longer term.
I tried this back in 2011. I discovered it too late to actually participate with a group and I ended up only lasting for 15 days instead of 30. But I really enjoyed it. The practice of responding to prompts or questions was another of those things that, at least for me, helped me get through a complete process, even though it’s a shorter one. Doing that a whole bunch of times helps raise my confidence levels in being able to finish things, and I become more hungry to repeat that sense of accomplishment. Seems to be working out for me so far. 

I think what I’m getting at is, I’m still pretty new at the whole writing thing but with most creative processes I’ve worked through, from metal sculpture to web design, to mobile app design or drawing, etc. it’s always a heck of a lot easier to get to a polished end-point when there’s a target goal in mind. A goal makes “getting there” a process that’s achievable. If we’re not really sure where we’re trying to get, it’s easy to dwindle in and endless loop of brainstorm bursts that never grow into something the world gets to see. I think this may circle back to that second approach I mentioned, and the training partners thing but ya, finding folks to hold us accountable for delivering on our goals helps in motivation, feedback, longevity, and working through the inevitable creative ‘muck.’ 

I’d love to hear about your current process here in the comments section, and maybe others can offer some awesome helpful insights, as well!