As a maths student, I go through months where I have a lot of work to do and very little time for actual writing. Whenever I do take some time off, it is always amidst nagging thoughts of “I still don’t know every detail there is to know about Functional Analysis and probably never will”, “There are about 50 unread emails that I have to reply to but I’m too scared to open them because one of them will tell me whether I got that internship or not” and “I shouldn’t be doing this, I should at least be tidying my room but I don’t know where to start”.
As I go through all of this, I never stop daydreaming and imagining interesting characters and far-away places, or, as I like to call it, Planning Novels. I write my ideas down, of course, but it’s almost always just a short description of the idea and not a full story.
Sometimes it can feel productive to just write down the idea, assume that that’s all the Hard Creative Work done and all that needs to be done now is the easy part of opening a Word document and writing everything out neatly.
What I have come to realize over the last couple of weeks is that the process of writing changes and shapes a story just as much, if not more, than daydreaming does. I had an idea about two friends talking on a message board and thought I was finished, but it was only when I started writing that the first character became selfish, funny, sarcastic and the kind of person who uses texting language in e-mails, the second character got a name and became the selfless, intelligent, lonely girl who listens. Suddenly, those two had backgrounds and the story changed from being a tragedy to having a hopeful open ending.
I think that having ideas and thinking about them is brilliant and a vital step in writing, but it’s also important to realize that actually writing the story shapes it, as well as adding detail and depth. The third step needed is probably editing, which sharpens the writing style and can add further elements like humour or mystery to the story, but as someone who has only recently gotten past Step One, letusnotgotherejustyet.