My creative process: writing the first draft

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Bakuman illustration by Takeshi Obata

Learning about people’s creative process or “watching them create” is one of my favourite things. I’ve spent hours watching  YouTube videos of Takeshi Obata just drawing (he’s the mangaka who drew Hikaru no Go, Death Note and Bakuman, among other things). So I thought today I’d talk about my own creative process, because it’s fun to share and because maybe next year or in two or three years I’ll look back to this post and be amazed at how much my process has changed. Or not.

The idea

It all starts with an idea. It can come from vastly different things: a passer-by can sprout a character, a feeling can become a theme, etc. You have ideas, you know what I mean.

The daydream

There is a kind of natural selections in my ideas. I almost don’t consciously “choose” which one I’ll pursue, I just go with the one that obsesses me the most. After all, I write for fun. So, that natural selection occurs during my daydreams. Because I’m busy, I don’t just lie down to daydream like I used to when I was a teenager – I daydreaming while doing other things. rainbow-1445337690d8qMy personal favourite moment is while waiting for sleep, since I can just lie down and be happy in my own world for 15 minutes to 2 hours. It has the added benefit to keep me from worrying about… you know… real life.

The first words

When I have daydreamed a lot and I’m scared I might forget those dreams, I start writing. No plan, no plot, no nothing, just my ideas and my daydreams. And maybe notes taken in earlier steps. Normally, a “good” idea will get me to write over 10k words (sometimes even up to 20k words) virtually effortlessly. Those words would be written very quickly, like 10k over the weekend or 20k in two weeks.

The plot

Then, I stare at the mess reread the thing, and see where that could lead me or what I’d like to do with it. I write down key words for my different scenes on small pieces of paper and paste them on my wall. The mad artist look at that point is desirable. Then I try to come up with any missing element or plot point.

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My wall; there are 7 books there. And a drawing of Haruma Miura because… uh… whatever. Who needs a reason to put up drawings of beautiful people on their wall?

The research

During my initial 10-20k words, I will most likely have broached subjects I know little about, so while plotting, I’ll do some research and see what fun ideas emerge. Then I go back to plotting and alternate both until I have a pretty strong sequence of events.

The plan

Yes, because I don’t consider “plotting” as planning. For me, planning deals with questions like: How long’s it gonna be? What kind of narrator will I use? What artistic direction do I want to use? Stuff like that. I’ll also create an actual outline of the plot with target word counts in Scrivener.

patrick_jane_s_cup_of_tea_by_carlaoliveira-d7bv5fdThe first draft

Then I go ahead and write the first draft. I used to write by bursts until I found that writing between 500 and 1,000 words a day worked better for me. I work on my story every day unless there is a special occasion (Christmas, a wedding, etc.) or I’m sick. At first, it needs some getting used to, then it gets addictive, and finally it becomes a routine that you simply won’t question.

Typically, I’ll do some research all along the way (I try to limit this to 30 minutes a day, otherwise it tends to take up all my writing time). After a chunk of 10-20k words, I’ll also go back to what I have written, rearrange things as necessary (this usually takes 2-3 days, no more than a week), and then go back to drafting. That last step is crucial. I have been caught in a loop of editing the first 20k of a manuscript forever and ending up never finishing the thing. The saddest part is: I now plan on finishing that story at last, and I might just end up scrapping that whole beautifully written intro and starting from scratch.

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That’s it for this week. The editing process will require a post of its own when I’m done with my current novel, which probably means much later this year.

I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.
– Shannon Hale

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