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The idea for a story can come from almost anywhere. A long walk, a relaxing bath, a news article read online, an interesting phrase or quote, an inspiring song or quirky character observed while people watching. It's all fodder for the idea kiln.
I get my ideas from all these places and more. The ideas for stories, for me, is never the hard part. Keeping the idea is. Some of the tools I use to record my idea include:
- A tiny notebook that can fit in my purse or pocket
- My cellphone or tablet -- specifically, on Evernote
- Bath crayons (yes, shower ideas happen).
Sometimes, when an idea really grabs me, I like to make up character names right away. I'll write a biography of them or draw out some sketches. If an interesting place is involved, I might work on some setting details. But before I start on the first draft itself, this is all largely just play. I do whatever I like, and I'm not very systematic. It's like a return to my youth.
The first draft
Once I have the idea down in a cogent form that I won't forget about later, I usually have to wait to work on a full draft. Whether the story is a short one or a long-form novel, writing the first draft is time consuming. Thankfully, that's where NaNoWriMo comes in. Three times a year, I am forced to sit down and get about 1,667 a day down on a single project.
I largely don't work from a plan. I might have an idea of what the story is about, who the players are, and where the story is headed, but I leave myself plenty of room to explore. And I find that I've created some really solid first drafts that way. But whether you do it my way or whether you've planned everything out in advance, the key is to not lose momentum and to preserve at the task. Because when it's over, you'll have material to work with.
Beyond the first draft
I say, have some material to work with because the first draft is really only the beginning. If you've done your job right, you'll have thousands and thousands of words in a first draft, much of it pure crap. But that's fine. That's what a first draft is for. It's for talking to your characters. It's for listening to them and feeling out what the story actually is. The habit that I try to drop while drafting is the habit of criticism. The first draft is not for editing.
Editing comes later. In fact, I may be writing about it next Monday! :P