If you’re having trouble getting your stories from your head to page, then you’re reading the right blog.
When I first started writing I always had a hard time figuring out where to start and what to do. And after writing many movie scripts, short stories and Lechuga blog posts, I’ve obtained a pretty good grasp of what the writing process is like and I’m here to relay it onto you.
In this post I’ll be talking about coming up with ideas, getting those ideas into paper, talking about the more spiritual side of writing, and finally how to find publishers.
Coming up with ideas
Ideas are something that are somewhat sacred in the writing world. A lot of people have told me through the years all kinds of ways to distinct between a good idea worth writing and a dumb idea that you should scrap.
Out of all of the advice I’ve heard, one that I hear pretty often is that the idea has to make the reader want to know what happens next. It creates questions. You want the reader to be intrigued, to need to know what happens next in your story.
It needs to be something unique, something that either combines aspects that have never been combined before or something completely original that has never been done before.
However, I will tell you straight out that this is all a bunch of dogshit.
As unrealistically optimistic it sounds, I’ve always been of the opinion that there is no such thing as a bad idea. One mistake that I often see among some of my friends is that they don’t go through with some ideas because they think they’re bad, or not interesting enough.
However, the reality is that just because you have an idea that sounds interesting or good on paper, doesn’t mean it’s going to translate into a good story.
And I’m not the only one who thinks this, in the book Manga in Theory and Practice the author of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Hirohiko Araki when talking about not losing sight of your goals says this:
“The worst thing for insipiring mangaka is not knowing what kind of manga they want to create. When editors say that such and-such-part doesn’t work, or the manga needs to be more like this or that, some new to the field ask their editors, “Well, what should I be making?” But that’s the question that should absolutely not be asked. Not knowing what one should create is like walking on a glassy smooth surface through total darkness. In a situation like that, not even a map would be of any use. So please never lose sight of your purpose, of what you want to achieve by creating manga.” – Hirohiko Araki, Manga in Theory and Practice
Cause you see, story-telling at the end of the day isn’t about doing what you think you should be doing, or what other people tell you to do. It’s about getting stories off your chest. You don’t tell stories cause you want to, you tell stories cause you need to.
What I’m trying to tell you is that if you have an idea for a story, tell it, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s not good, if other people tell you it’s not good. If that’s the story that you want to tell, then that’s the story that you should be telling. Never lose sight of what you want, because those stories, the one that make you happy and you’re really passionate about, those are the best stories.
Now that I have that out of the way, let’s talk about how to come up with ideas if you find yourself stumped.
There is an absurd amount of advice I’ve been told over the years of how to come up with new ideas. Brainstorming is a big one, just sitting down with a notepad and writing down
every single idea that you can come up with. A variation of this is to write down on your phone or something every idea that comes to you naturally and then later on going through each of them to see which one sticks.
Both of these options are completely valid and are great ways of getting ideas. However, these obviously don’t work for everyone and personally, I’ve found that the ideas that I come up with this way don’t really have the same punch in comparison to stories that come to me naturally.
So, here’s some advice.
Take note of things that stick with you
This is one that I recently came across while reading Manga in Theory and Practice. The idea here is that every time you experience something that sticks with you for whatever reason. Write it down and write why it sticks with you so much.
Maybe you saw a movie with a scene that left a deep impression in you. Write it down, and also write down why it impacted you so much.
Maybe you came across someone with a drastically different opinion to you, write that down and write why you think that person felt differently to you.
When it comes to writing, you can’t restrict yourself to your own little bubble. You have to branch out and be exposed to new things on a constant basis. Because the best place to find any sort of inspiration is the real world.
Write about what scares you
And I’m not talking about clowns and shit.
This is one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever heard in my life.
When it comes to writing emotional or deeply impactful scenes. It’s important for that scene to feel genuine, and the deeper that scene connects to you personally, the bigger the impact of that scene will be.
Write about your insecurities, write about your anxieties. Write about things that you have a hard time talking about. Things that are deeply personal to you.
I know it might be difficult to write about some of these subjects, but those stories are the ones that will leave a lasting impact on your reader.
Outlining and Drafting
After you have your idea and know what you want your story to be about. That’s when us writers hit the roadblock that fills us with much dread: the blank page
We’ve all reached this moment at some point in our writing careers, and if you were anything like me, you probably started like they always do in the movies.
Write the title of your story, and then begin writing from the very first line of the book. Starting your draft from the beginning and making your way to the end.
For the love of god do not do this.
This is as rookie of a mistake as you can get, all this will do is stump you and give you difficulty moving on from the beginning. You’ll find yourself re-writing the first line over and over again, trying to find the right way to start the book when that’s not what you should be focusing on right now. Not to mention that you’ll probably get stuck a lot through the writing process since you’d be writing the parts that you think you should be writing instead of the parts that you should be writing.
Well, you might be asking yourself: “If I don’t start from the beginning, then where do I start?” And I’m so glad you asked.
In the early stages of coming up with a story, you probably only have a basic idea of what the story is about. Whether it’s a character, a scene, or a joke, it is very improbable that you will have all the information necessary to actually write the story properly.
And that’s where outlines come in.
Outlines will serve as the basis for your entire story, they’re the building blocks of the book, the blueprints if you will.
It’s the place where you write the story in whatever way you feel like doing before writing the actual draft.
Everybody has their own way of writing and structuring their outline. Me personally, I always write the story in the most literal way imaginable. Here’s an example from my short story Thoughts:
The story is about a guy who has trouble sleeping and has all these weird thoughts while he tries to fall asleep.
It starts with him looking at the computer as he’s studying for the exam the next day.
And then eventually his sister comes in to tell him to go to bed only for him to tell her that he’s fine and he just continues studying….
It’s all somewhat nonsensical but you can see the basis of the story here. A basis that is later used to draft and further dramatize the story.
And you don’t have to do it in the way that I do, everyone has their own way of writing outlines. Some people make bullet points, others make flash cards. Just experiment through trial and error until you find an outline format that works for you.
And if you ever get stumped on what to write for your outline, a good general rule of thumb is to write whatever you have at the moment. Don’t worry about skipping scenes or not having key details figured out yet. It’s very natural to write out of sequence and if you reach a part where you only have an extremely vague idea about what happens or you’re not exactly sure what will happen in a specific point in the story, just tell yourself: I’ll figure it out later and continue writing.
After you have your outline (Or at least, most of it). It’s time to start working on the actual draft.
Using the outline as your base, you’ll basically just write the story as you would normally, though it should be considerably easier since you have a reference.
One key word of advice that I would give is that when making the first draft, don’t think about things to much. Start writing the parts that you feel like writing, don’t re-read parts that you’ve already read. You wanna really blast through that first draft.
Once you’re done, chances are you have a pretty mediocre story in your hands. And that’s okay, that means your doing it right.
The next step is to check your work, personally, I read over the story and leave myself comments on word for future drafts. However, you can do this however you want, you can write notes on your phone, write notes in a notebook. Or maybe not write any notes at all.
Personally, even though I do leave notes, I find myself never really using them as the act of writing them gives me a better grasp of what the story needs, what needs changing and what should improve (which is usually the entire story.)
There are various ways that you can tackle the second draft. One very good way of doing so is by using the first draft and notes as your base and work from there. However, there are occasion where you want to make so many changes to the story that the first draft is simply to outdated to use as a base. In this case, I recommend re-writing the outline and using that.
However, from there, it’s just a matter of drafting using either the draft or outline as a base, checking your work and then re-writing it. Which is a process that you repeat infinitely until you reach a satisfying draft. The whole process would look something like this:
Of course, you can bend this process as much as you want. But I at least hope it serves to give you an idea as to what you should do when writing.
Before moving on to the last section, one last tip that I want to give comes into play once you reach the last or penultimate draft of your story.
It’s important during these sections to start analyzing the grammar and sentence-structure of each paragraph and make sure that it’s all coherent. I highly recommend using websites like Thesaurus.com to find synonyms for words that are repeated often. It also makes you sound smarter.
Make sure to share the story with friends that you know can give you useful feedback. It might be tempting to give the story to everyone that you know, however, sharing the story carelessly could result in you receiving feedback that can potentially hurt your artist integrity (which is something I’ll go into more detail in the next section.) So, make sure you only give the story to people who you trust.
The Spiritual Side of Writing
When I’m talking about the spiritual side of writing. I don’t mean anything religious or among those lines, it’s just the way I like to call the more philosophical or personal part of the writing process.
Because even though writing might seem like a straightforward process, the reality is that a lot of us have trouble writing not because we don’t know what we’re doing, but because there’s some deeper personal problem preventing us from doing so.
You see, all of us artist have this little voice in our head that tells us that our work isn’t good enough. That we should quit writing. That nobody cares about what you create.
I’ve heard people call this voice all sorts of things in the past, some people call it the little voice, some people call it the policeman, I like to call it the Censor, because it’s coherent and it perfectly describes what it does.
The Censor is the ultimate enemy of all artist, and the thing is, you can’t just tell the Censor to fuck off and then you’re good. Controlling the Censor and ultimately not letting it control you is a total pain in the ass and requires lots of dedication and self-reflecting.
I’ll only be going through the basics of controlling the Censor, however, if you want to learn more, I highly recommend reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a life changer of a book and explains everything I’ll go into in way more detail.
There are two basic things that you want to start doing right away. Those being the morning pages and the artist dates
Morning pages is something that you do every morning. Basically, get a notebook that’s approximately 12 x 11 inches in size and every single morning write down three pages of pure stream of consciousness. Just whatever pops into your mind.
It doesn’t matter what it is, or if the text is completely incoherent. Doing this will get a lot of the baggage from everyday life off of you, and not only will it help you with your creativity, but it will also help you in your everyday life since you won’t be carrying as much weight all the time.
Some might say that they don’t have the time to do this. And that’s total nonsense. Just get up thirty minutes earlier than you usually do and write from your bed. There are no excuses.
This one is a little harder to define then the morning pages.
Basically, once every week, you’re going to do something different then what you usually do. Something you would never consider doing otherwise if it weren’t for the fact that you have to.
It can be literally anything, it could be going to a place you’ve never gone before. Eating at a new restaurant. Or just doing something you haven’t done in a long time. You can find countless amounts of ideas for artist dates on google so once again, there are no excuses.
I could make an entire Lechuga post talking about the spiritual side of writing. And I probably will someday. However, this post would be to long if I kept talking about this, so for now, just follow these basic steps and you should already be making considerable process.
And once again, I can’t recommend enough that you read The Artist’s Way.
Now this is one part of the writing process that I can’t really talk much about because outside of this blog, I have yet to be published in an official manner.
However, I sure have tried and there are somethings that I wish I knew before I started trying to get published.
Primarily, you want to get an account on Submittable.com ASAP. It’s free and it’s the place where most publishers will be asking for submissions.
The whole site is honestly great, you can even search for publishers based on all kinds of different criteria like short-stories or non-fiction.
Though you won’t find big publishers like the New Yorker or The Atlantic. For those, you have to contact them directly.
It’s always important to look for every possible opportunity to find a publisher. Whether it’s a magazine or some local contest you’ve never heard of in your life.
Just know that no matter how many times you get rejected, you have to keep going. Just because you got rejected once or thirty times doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It just means you have to keep going.
Or you can always just make a blog and dump everything you couldn’t publish there.
Thank you so much for reading all the way to the end. Even if only one person who reads this finds these tips useful, that would make me extremely happy.
And also, if you haven’t already, subscribe to The Lechuga newsletter or follow the Instagram account @the_lechuga_adrian to get notified of new posts. I tried to upload every week for your reading pleasure.
Also, if you’re interested, you can find the cited works here:
Manga in Theory and Practice by Hirohiko Araki: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1421594072/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron: