The cyclical nature of the creative process.


A couple weeks ago Chuck Wendig wrote an excellent post about the emotional milestones of writing the first draft of a novel. It describes my own experience perfectly with all the highs and lows, so I would definitely say it’s recommended reading.

That post also made me think about the creative process in general and the various stages I go through between the new idea in my head and the finished product. And I realized that that process also has its highs and lows, but that in the end, it’s cyclical. I thought it would be fun to share my observations with my readers and see if anyone’s experience is similar to mine.

1. Shiny new idea aka rabid plot bunny.

That’s the beginning of every new story, isn’t it? A fluffy plot bunny comes hopping  into your brain and kicks every other idea out until its the only thing you can think of. It’s so fresh and new and exciting, and you can’t wait to start writing this story down, because you know without a doubt that it has all the makings of a true masterpiece.

There is only one slight problem. The plot bunny is never a whole story. It might be a scene, or an idea, or a group of characters, or even just a “what if this happened?” moment. No, the true story is still playing hard to get. You need to do some archaeological digging to get to it. That’s where stage two starts for me.


2. The rough outline.

Now this stage might differ from writer to writer, depending on whether you are a “pantser” or a  “plotter”.  Some writers might even skip this stage altogether. I’m not saying that one method is better than the other. I’m just saying that I’m very much a plotter. I can’t write a story without knowing where it’s going and having an approximation map of how to get there, so I tend to write rather extensive outlines.

That’s the stage where I grab that plot bunny by its fluffy ears and shake it until the details of the story start tumbling out.  By the time I’m done with my outline, I know exactly how the story will start and how it will end, but most of the stuff in between reads like “stuff happens to get the protagonist from point A to point B,” or “I have no idea how she ends up here, but I’ll think of something.”

But it’s a good enough road map to follow and I’m usually so sick with the whole outlining process by that time that I’d rather start on the first draft now, before I get too tired of the story, and work out the kinks later.

3. The First Draft.

Chuck gave a very accurate description of the emotional roller coaster a writer goes through during the first draft. Needless to say that after the three months it usually takes me to finish the first draft of a normal length novel, I am an emotional mess, and the only thing I want to do is throw that draft in a drawer and forget about it.

And I DEFINITELY don’t want to tackle another first draft. Sometimes, depending on how difficult the story had been for me, I feel like I never want to write another new story ever again… So by this time I have reached the next stage of my creative process.

4. The editing adventure.

Since I don’t feel like chasing another plot bunny right at the moment and going through the highs and lows of a first draft again, I go digging into the Dropbox folder where I keep all my stories and unearth a story I had put aside when that plot bunny had gotten me distracted 3-4 months ago. I print out the story, get my faithful blue pen out and dive into editing.

I know a lot of people dread that process, and it can be tedious and heart-breaking to take the jumbled mess of a first draft and make the words better. But after the trials of the draft when you give birth to the story, having a stack of pages to edit feels really good. So I dive into my edits, I hack and slash and rewrite about 80% of the draft until I’m more or less satisfied with the end result. And by the end of that process, I’m so burned out on editing that I start actually looking forward to writing a new story again, even if I had swore in stage 3 that I would never do that again.

So I send my edited story to some brave beta readers and eagerly open my mind to the next plot bunny willing to hop in and take me for a ride. And the cycle begins again…

It’s funny to discover that I start each stage of the process full of excitement and energy, and that I’m usually burned out and eager to move to the next stage by the end.

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced this cycle as well? Is your creative process different? Drop me a few lines in the comments, because I would really like to hear from you!

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