1. The idea squirms uninvited from the folds of your unconscious mind, generally at an inopportune time. Like while you’re sleeping, or parallel parking on a busy thoroughfare in a rainstorm, or on a first date that isn’t going well.
2. You jot the idea down on whatever scrap of paper happens to be in reach. Sometimes, if you’re clever or lucky, that scrap is part of a notebook or maybe finds its way into your pocket. Often, the idea is recorded in the form of a partially coherent text message to yourself.
3. You spend a few days secretly enraptured with the idea, nursing it along, letting it develop. Every once in a while you sneak a look at the notebook page or scrap of paper to remind yourself of how rare and wonderful it is. The larger narrative it’s a part of begins to take shadowy form. You may find yourself feeling a bit giddy. But then…
4. Your creative focus is quietly, relentlessly eroded by the less fabulous aspects of your daily life. One day, somewhere between unloading the dishwasher and flossing your molars, you lose track of the idea. You forget that it was ever there.
5. A period of anywhere from four days to eleven years passes.
6. One night, jostled loose by too much liquor/wine/coffee/conversation/head injury, the idea mysteriously resurfaces. You become convinced that this idea might be the key to creating the writing life you’ve always imagined. You know the fantasy: antique desk, steaming cup of something next to your keyboard, warmth, solitude. No day job to prevent the free flow of written words. Time to improve yourself and cook. Yeah. That fantasy.
7. By this time, you have carved out a regular time to work on being a writer. You transfer the rough outline of the idea to a fresh document. It sits there on the page, slightly tarnished by the passage of time, but still compelling. Even a little bit… defiant. Like it’s challenging you to recall the context you had planned to create for it.
8. Threats emerge.
Your newsfeed threatens to wash away your shanty of intentions like an avalanche of mud. The idea is there, waiting for you after all this time, but something in you resists. Are you afraid that you were wrong, and that this incredible, strangely persistent idea is just a little lump of stale shit?
The holidays roll up on you like an angry polar bear. People are in your house. Family closes in. Your mother keeps asking what’s so important that you can’t make time for a regular phone call. When you explain that you “need uncommitted time and head space to be creative”, she responds with frosty silence.
9. Despite all of this, and your day job, and your social life (such as it is), you force yourself to engage with the idea and make something of it. After weeks of surprising diligence, you have the beginnings of something worth reading. You are proud of it.
10. Months pass. Maybe a year or two. The first draft is finished. Your awesome story idea is now a novel. Upon finishing the last sentence (which is to say, the first of many drafts of the last sentence, because you really want this line to land), you allow yourself a brief period where you watch a lot of bad TV and drink too much.
11. You show your draft to a few trusted friends and loved ones. They point out the obvious plot issues that you, in your spasm of creative enthusiasm, glossed over. They also remind you that there are several points in the piece where there is a page break followed by the words COME BACK LATER AND INSERT SCENE WHERE THIS REALLY IMPORTANT THING HAPPENS. DO IT.
12. After an extended period during which you cycle through various positions on the love-yourself-loathe-yourself scale, you are finished with a polished edit. You are no longer able to tell whether anything that you write is helping the novel or making it more obtuse. That euphoric moment when the original idea first squealed itself into existence has been buried, never to be fully remembered.
But no matter.
13. Now it’s time for you to start looking for a publisher. If that’s what you decide to do.
Oh. This is… Wow. It might actually be MORE DIFFICULT than writing the book in the first place.
Have you considered going back to school for a graduate degree in something else? Trade school? Everyone needs an IT person on their team. No? Of course not.
You are a goddamned writer. Ready for step one again?