Last night, a stranger introduced himself to me while I was washing my face. Seemingly out of nowhere -poof- this entity that did not exist before was fully formed in my head. He’s a quiet one, but he has big presence. Between the time I dried my face and applied my moisturizer (it has snail goo in it—don’t ask), I knew enough about him to run to my notebook and jot down some notes about him.
It’s tempting to call this magic. I am a pretty woo woo person, and there’s comfort in not taking responsibility for the success or failure of my ability to generate ideas. However, the truth is that it’s not magic at all. It’s part of the process.
For the last month, I have been holding the ideas of this book in my head. I knew a few characters and I know lots of the big story beats (unusual for me). But I always have to go through this process of filling my well before I can write. So I’ve been reading all sorts of academic papers and non-fiction about the time period and location.
I’ve also been daydreaming about the story a lot. While I wash dishes or take my walk, I play with the movie in my head.
I’ve been itchy to start this book, but I’ve also written enough books to know that I’ll start writing when I’m ready. The appearance of an unexpected character is a good sign. It means my subconscious has been digesting what I’ve been feeding it and is now ready to start sharing. You can think of it like sourdough starter. If I keep feeding it water and flour, it’ll start to bubble until I can use it to transmute it into bread.
My point is that I knew I wasn’t quite ready to write, but I’d been beating myself up anyway. The pressure to produce pages is strong, and sometimes I forget that research and daydreaming bear their own sort of fruit. They’re just harder to quantify. A paragraph I read today will put some bit of information in my head and a few days later I’ll see a picture. Then my idea machine will combine those things and suddenly -poof- a person who didn’t exist before, even in imagination, is suddenly telling me his story.
I’m not sure who’ll show up next, but that’s part of the fun. My job is to trust my gut, do the work and then marvel at the results. Yeah, it feels like magic, but really it’s just about having faith that it’ll work out if I trust the process—and myself.