I’ve always wondered about those authors who state that the day after they finish writing a novel they sit down at the keyboard and start typing the next one. It goes hand-in-glove with the idea of just sitting down and looking at a blank piece of paper, and letting that lead you into your story. It might work for some people. It doesn’t for me.
Instead, my process is something I call immersion. I start with an idea, a premise, which is usually no more than a sentence or two long. A what-if, a possibility. Sometimes it’s actually a scene that’s developed into a larger story. But it has to start somewhere. And I linger over that premise for days or weeks or even months. I toy with it, consider it, rework it time and time again. I bring it out, write out how I think it might work, usually to the point where I see the story unraveling, date it, then set it aside. I can go through this process dozens of times.
What this does is that it gets my subconscious thinking along the lines of the story. The more complex the story, the longer this process is likely to take. But my rule of thumb is that I don’t start writing until I can see the first scene clearly in my head.
At some point I have to put words–not just planning, but actual story–on paper. Sometimes it is very rough, but I savor those images that are clear for me, and struggle through those parts that are unclear. And I find that eventually the story starts to take on a life of its own. Most of the reason for this is that it has come alive in my mind. The characters are real, the story is valid.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes I feel like I’m wasting time: my own and my readers. But usually I get to the end and find that there is a story worth saving. And the only way to get to the end is by immersing myself in the story as I write.
That’s what works for me.