distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

The Unmuddying of the Idea

I know I only just finished the first draft of a novel, but while I take a break from working on that one, while I wait for revision, it’s the perfect time to play around on Tumblrkidding—it’s actually the perfect time to try to articulate ideas for another book.

It’s the articulation part of this process that always gets me.

When I first come to a story idea, one I think I want to try writing, I feel the idea, the vibration of it. I sense it in me, the tone and shades of it. I know it well enough to recognize its voice on the street. Yet if you asked me to describe it to you, like in plot order, I’d freeze up and flail my hands and stutter and if you have a heart you’d feel bad for me and we’d start talking about the weather instead.

Communicating the idea to someone else is always a great challenge.

So, before I can talk about it, I have to write it down. It always comes out wrong at first, but I have selective amnesia and seem to forget that each time. I want the idea to be perfect at its first stab on the page. It never is. I write the idea. Then I rewrite it and rewrite it and someday, we hope, the idea will smooth itself out into a pleasing shape. The mud will be washed away and it’ll be clear.

That’s what I’m working on this week.

Two different ideas.

This morning I met two writers in a café that had password-protected wifi (I made sure not to ask for the password) and bad cell phone service, so my phone had no bars. The other writers started writing and then there I was, me and my ideas. Somehow I wrote a whole new draft of the YA idea while I was sitting there. It needs more work, but it’s closer now.

Soon will come the scary part when I show the ideas to someone else* and see what he thinks.


* My process for writing a book starts with showing my novel ideas to my agent before starting to write any words of the story. Basically a pitch for what I want the book to be, if I wrote it. I also show the ideas to my other half. They both tend to agree or say similar things without realizing—it’s uncanny—so in my experience if I have them both on board, then I know the idea has legs. This can be a dramatic process if I’m very attached to the idea, as I am now, but it saves the pain and suffering I might have at starting to write an inarticulate idea and then having to trash many pages.

There is such a thing, though, as overthinking an idea and ruining it before you even get started writing. So sometimes I feel like I’m handling explosives. I have to delicately set the words down and then take a step back. Will it blow to smithereens or will it hold still for me to write it?


In the meantime, the idea and I continue to grow very, very attached. It’s whispering in my ear now, wanting me to write its first paragraph…

I’m holding back, for now.

How do you articulate your ideas?

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7 responses to “The Unmuddying of the Idea”

  1. That is EXACTLY the way I feel when I start a new WIP or attempt to discuss an idea I have! I’m so glad someone can articulate the anxiousness and topsy-turviness that is my thought process when it comes to my writing. So if & undoubtedly when someone asks me anything about ANYTHING to do with my writing, I’ll just direct them to your post. Thx! 😉

  2. I let it talk to me. I usually find that my best ideas are the ones that I shove into a box in the back of my mind and let them play out for a few months before I write them. I’m a plotter, so when I get the idea, I write a really, really rough draft of a query letter then boil it down to a one sentence pitch. When I shove it away, I’m thinking about the ending. I have to know how it’ll end before I write or I’ll lose interest in the idea.

  3. Well, that’s a very good description of what you are doing in your mind when you are getting started. Kind of cool, actually. Glad you have people to sound off on, that must help the process a great deal.

  4. I love how you described the vibration of an idea, the tone of it, and recognising its voice as you walk down the street. I know exactly what you mean, those delicious moments of first life. Something I’m just going through right now, and I just love how an idea starts fleshing out to a world. It’s a wonderfully exciting time, and if I feel that kind of buzz grow, I start writing…quickly, so it steps in beside me and stays close. If it starts fluttering away too quickly, I know then it’s not the right one. Not yet anyway. The one that wants to begin tends to also begin its demanding ways.

  5. I generally let it stew for a while until I’ve learned a few more things. Then I write down everything that comes to mind, in no particular order- notes, quotes, excerpts, character thoughts, plot points, everything that passes through. By that point, the main character has generally come forward and starts talking to me. I’d say at least half of those initial notes don’t make it into even the first draft, as the MC tells me their story in new- and I think better- directions, but getting down all the possibilities helps.

  6. Wow, I am in the exact same place right now. The idea is written. I’m not sure if it’s good yet. I want to start writing, but I’m holding back. Ha. I wish I was a little closer to that wifi-locked coffee shop…so we could, you know, talk about the weather.

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