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Writer's Alchemy

Permanent Linkby starweaver on Thu Jan 22, 2009 9:32 am

Since I've been writing with more discipline lately, instead of waiting for bursts of inspiration, I've come to see the process a little differently.

Some writers work very organically or spontaneously. They start with a character or a premise and just start writing and see what happens. My own inclinations have always been to be a bit more premeditated than that. I say "a bit more" because I certainly don't have everything worked out in advance, but I do like to have a clear notion of where the story is going, what the characters are like, and what the pivotal points in the plot are. If the story takes place in an unfamiliar setting, I also like to do a little world-building before I start.

What I've been noticing is that something very magic often takes place somewhere during the writing process. The story becomes more than the sum of its parts; it delivers more than I've consciously put into it. This can happen gradually as the story develops, or it can feel like it's happening all at once, when a particularly strong scene goes down on paper. I like to think of this as writer's alchemy - ordinary-looking story elements are transmuted into something rich and meaningful in the crucible that is the act of writing.

I confess I love the way that feels; it has its own reward for me, irrespective of whether the story will sell or not. It seems that part of what makes this happen is that the basic story elements sort of stew with everything else that's in my mind - recent experiences, images, insights, and wanderings of my curiosity. So these things find a way of expressing themselves even if I don't deliberately set about to include them. Nevertheless, there is something mystical about the experience.

As I have experienced these moments of alchemy, I'm gradually allowing myself to trust my initial ideas more. Rather, I should say, I'm learning to trust the development process. I'm learning not to censor my ideas before I begin to develop them. When reduced to the bare bones of premise and plot, a lot of ideas look drab or unworkable: they seem unoriginal, illogical, or just unexciting. But I have to remind myself that the idea is not the story. The idea is the stone in the stone soup. You have to start with something, but it's the ingredients that go into the pot afterward that make the difference.

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