JWAM reader request no. 16: The necessity of thinking time

Rachel says:

So, I just read the storyless character post, and I have a similar problem: the storyless scene. I tend to come up with a scene, kind of like your Charlie scene but generally the idea, not the character, is dominant. How do I give that basic idea and scene a plot, characters, and events?

I’ve been thinking about this one a lot and I’m failing to come up with any new suggestions. There’s stuff on finding a plot here and I think the one on characters applies as well, and you’ve already read the storyless character post.

I suspect that your problem is that you’re still in the mulling stage and not yet in the writing stage. I’m more and more convinced that many of the people who can’t get started because they only have an idea but no plot or characters, or a plot but no setting or characters etc, are simply not ready to write that particular story yet.

A big part of the writing process for many writers is the thinking part. It may look like I’m sitting on the deck staring at the flying foxes making their slightly cumbersome, leather-winged way past me, but in fact I’m working very hard mulling and thinking and cogitating. Ideas and images are percolating and I’m letting them take me where they will.

Which sometimes is nowhere. Sad but true: not all ideas or images or characters lead anywhere. Sometimes they’re dead end; sometimes they’ll come in handy later.

I’d wanted to write a book set in NYC in the thirties for ages, but it wasn’t until I came up with another idea—in a conversation and email exchange with Cassandra Clare—that the characters and story started to grow enough for me to start writing them.

Sometimes I start writing as soon as a voice pops into my head1 or the setting or scene or whatever and it will grow as I write and I’ll figure it all out in the writing. Sometimes I need more than that to get going. I know many writers who need to have the entire novel nutted out before they can put fingers to keyboard.

When you’re a beginning writer part of what you’re learning is what kind of writer you are.2 I do know that whatever kind you are, you’ll find that a huge chunk of writing is thinking. Even if I start instantly from the moment the idea first hits me, sooner or later I’ll stop to have a think before continuing to write more.

Good luck!

NOTE: Please ask your writing questions over here. It’s easier for me to keep track of them and answer them in order if they’re all at the end of that one post. Thanks! I’m taking writing advice quessies for the whole of January.

  1. Not in a crazy way, okay? []
  2. The bad news is that what kind of writer you are is probably going to change from book to book. []


  1. Tracy on #

    Justine, thanks so much for all of the time and effort you put into answering quessies/posting writing tips. I’ve found everything to be so helpful, not just on a practical level, but on a more personal, emotional level. It’s nice to know that the ups and downs I experience are a normal part of the process. It keeps me plugging away at my little manuscript and focussed on the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

    I also want to say that I quite enjoy your sense of humour – your footnotes always crack me up! (I’m still chuckling about hearing voices “in a good way” and my daughter keeps staring at me in a most concerned manner).

  2. writergirl on #

    I think shes funny to! I like thinking better then writing! 🙂

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