Behind “The Process”: Practice? We’re Talkin about Practice? Not the Game, But Practice?

Don’t just start writing; get warmed up first!

For folks who saw the title and thought, The hell is he goin on about? I can’t even begin to describe it. Here…

NBA Hall of Famer, Allen Iverson back in 2002

So, yes. Practice. We’re talking about practice. Not the game. What you do before the game, which, in this case, the game is writing fiction. It’s an odd game with many facets, and rules that were actually meant to be broken in order to do it the best. It’s a weird game, played different ways by different people. Here’s how I get ready.

Before you do ANY kind of writing: release your expectations

This is easier said than done, I know. But it gets easier as you go along. Don’t worry before you start, or once you get going, whether what you’re writing is any good. I’ll just tell you now: It’s not. NO ONE is brilliant on their first draft of anything. That’s why it’s called the writing process. A good writer goes over everything again and again and again, improving it each time.

What if I don’t know what to write about?

Here’s a few things I like to do to get started on something brand new:

  1. Make a list of ideas. As an example, I’ll make up a few on the spot:
    • A group of hunters go into the woods. One of them is new to the group. Once they’re deep in the sticks, the newbie breaks away from the group and starts hunting them.
    • In the second coming, the messiah returns to earth, but upon seeing the state of the world, gets depressed and considers not fulfilling the prophecy.
    • All the animals in the world get something akin to the 28 Days Later virus, where they all go nuts with attacks of extreme violence on the humans.
    • A guy buys an old house and starts fixing it up, but when he opens the walls, he finds markings and relics from an evil-worshipping cult. Odd things start happening, which turn to scary things, which become life-threatening things.
    • (Honestly, I kind of like the first one. Maybe you’ll see that as a short story in the weeks to come…)
    • Exactly what it sounds like. Write stream-of-consciousness style. If you have a thought, write it down. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, syntax, or even if it makes sense. The idea is to get that brain-to-hand pump primed. *You can do this after you make a list, or skip the list and use free writing to find an idea.
  3. Don’t just start writing a draft. Even if you think you’ve got the whole idea in your head. Make bullet points of what you think might happen. You can follow them closely, depart entirely, or meet somewhere in the middle. (I don’t like outlining too much, because it’s fun to get surprised by ideas in-the-moment.)
    • Four friends are meet up in a bar on the last day before their long weekend hunting trip
    • They recap their plan to go up to Nick’s(?) buddy’s place, where there’s miles of untouched land his buddy owns.
    • They meet Nick’s buddy up there.
    • Things get weird: The friend is nowhere to be found the first morning of the hunt and the battery for the truck they came in has been removed.
    • The guys start to talk, then one of them gets shot and drops.
  4. Start writing, using your bullet points as a guide. But, by all means, veer off the path. See what’s around the corner that your imagination skipped over the first time around. Worst case scenario, you change it later.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, This dude is sick!

Relax, it’s fiction. I don’t hunt, nor do I own a firearm, nor do I have any urge to actually do these things. When writing fiction, most newer writers have a tendency to assume people will make some kind of personal or moral judgments about them based on their content, genre, or whatever. Don’t let what people might think about you affect what you write. Unlike my examples, what you brainstorm and write doesn’t have to be seen by anyone ever, unless you want them to see it. And when you ultimately do write something to completion, people will be more impressed that you wrote something with style and imagination than they would be weirded out by it.

Unless you’re even weirder than me.

Alright! What did we learn today?

Just like any kind of physical activity, you have to limber up before you write. Get the juices flowin, homie.

You can make lists of ideas when you don’t have an existing project to work on. Just the act of trying to come up with ideas stirs the imagination. Sometimes the first one is the best one, sometimes the last. And sometimes you’ll come back to a list and develop a different idea.

Free write, free write, free write. I love doing this. Even if it’s just to kill time or practice writing for the sake of writing. Free writes aren’t pretty, but they might be the most important tool in the box. One of them at least.

Some folks prefer to outline every scene before they even begin writing. If that’s how you roll, go get it–be happy in your process. But it’s not for me. Agree to disagree, and all that. I like making bullet points. This can be a whole story outline if you like, or you can (as I do) do it before each scene. I usually stop making bullets when my brain says, I can’t take it anymore! I have to start writing this!

And these easy techniques work all the way through the writing process.

When you’re fleshing out an idea, or you’re 50,000 words into a novel and you go: I’ve lost it. Where is this going? Lists, bullet points, and free writes will bring you where you need to be. If these don’t help you, then I have failed you and lost my honor.

Please say it isn’t so.

Take good care of yourselves!


Thanks for reading!

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