How to Translate the Story in Your Head Into Words on the Page

Photo credit: Victoria Nevland on Flickr
The first step is understanding this is going to be a long process—and the end result may still look different than what you're picturing right now, and that's okay.

Next is understanding you'll never get that book you're imagining onto the page if you don't throw words on the page. And look, during that first draft, the words are not going to line up perfectly to that story you're imagining. A lot of times, the words are going to look pretty unrecognizable compared to what you want the end result to look like.

But the thing is, that's okay. The first draft, in many cases, is going to look like a steaming pile of garbage when you try to compare it to the masterpiece you imagined. Or at the very least it'll look like a pile of rubble you have to somehow sift through and rebuild before it'll start looking like the end result you want.

But again, that's to be expected. As I frequently remind myself, you can't edit a blank page. So fill those pages with words.

Once you've finished the first draft, it'll be time to take a break. How long is up to you—I like to take a month when I can, and even better if I can fill that month with other words—whether from another project, or from books. The goal is to remember as little as possible when you return to the manuscript, because the less you remember, the fresher it'll feel, and the fresher it'll feel, the easier it'll be to see the flaws.

Which, yeah, is the next step. Eventually time will come to pick up your manuscript and read it critically. This is the moment when you're going to see just how far the distance is from the book in your head to the book currently on the page. And it means paying attention to that distance and taking note of all the things you need to do to bring your manuscript closer to what you wanted it to be.

But more than that—it means being open to ways you could make it better than what you originally planned, too. Maybe the story took a turn you weren't expecting, or a character demanded more spotlight than your original plan. Maybe you have some potential possibilities you could expand on that would support your story and make it bigger—don't be afraid to go for those too. Sometimes big changes you weren't expecting are the best thing for the manuscript.

You'll have to revise on your own and decide what changes to go with. You'll have to put a lot of time and effort and emotion and know at the end, when you're tired and the manuscript is looking better—you're nowhere near done.

Because eventually will come time to work with others. Critique partners. Agents. Editors. And they'll all introduce ideas and possibilities you hadn't thought of. Some of them will bring them closer to the book you originally imagined. Some of them won't—but the different end point will be even better than you imagined. Be open to those ideas, and consider them carefully as you decide what to go with and what to ignore.

Writing a book is an evolutionary process. Very rarely do I end up with a final manuscript that looks exactly like I originally imagined—it's pretty near always better. Because by challenging myself to push harder, to explore that character and plot thread, to try something risky I hadn't originally imagined, I can build on the story in ways I hadn't imagined when I first got that story idea.

Eventually, you'll translate the story in your head into words on the page. And the story won't be the same, not really. But that's a good thing.

Have you ever experienced the evolution of story? 

Twitter-sized bites:
How do you translate the story in your head into words on the page? @Ava_Jae shares some thoughts. (Click to tweet)

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