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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best creativity magazine in the UK“, author Stephen J. Wolf shares his creative writing process and what inspires his books.
Written by Stephen J. Wolf
Who am I?
I am a chemistry and physics teacher who has taught both middle and high school since 2001. I earned a PhD in Science Education in 2006 from Curtain University in Perth, Australia. Ever since watching Mr. Wizard’s World, I was hooked on science, because it explained things in the world that I hadn’t known before.
I have always had a deep love of fantasy, from watching movies, to reading Lyndon Hardy’s Master of the Five Magics, to playing Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy on the NES. Magic captivated me and I wanted to dive into it with both feet. And a staff.
Inspiration for Writing
My inspiration comes from many sources. Sometimes, it’s from the world around me and conflicts I see in my personal life. Other times, I’m having a tough day and need a battle scene to work out frustration. For my Red Jade series, it all started with a conversation with my personal trainer about magic crystals that had unlimited, but useless, power, such as a water jade that only provided one drop at a time. You never know where ideas will come from, but if one pops into your head, write it down before you forget.
I currently use a mix of outlining (plotting) and free-flow writing (pantsing). The outline helps structure the story from beginning to end, making sure there’s an appropriate middle. It helps keep track of characters’ actions and how they intermingle.
Of course, once I have my outline and I sit to write, the other side of me often takes over, forcing me to revisit and edit my outline. Sometimes, I don’t exactly know where the story is going until I get there, so having the freedom to write openly works for me.
My writing location shifts between two places in my house. I sometimes use my office and other times I sit at the dining room table. I generally need silence, though sometimes instrumental music helps me focus. I’m not someone who can work in a café with all the background noise. Do what works for you.
When I’m in the midst of a book, I try to set aside at least a half hour a day to sit with the story and add to it. Sometimes, I just end up rereading and tweaking what I’ve already written, but mostly I keep pushing the story forward. It’s important to make that progress.
I have a close support system I can bounce ideas off of as I write out the plot and various scenes. Having a sounding board is extremely helpful, especially for getting past blocks and for ensuring the story makes sense.
Once the story is written, there’s a lot of work to do. Here’s my basic process:
- Self-edit for plot holes and so on
- Pass the draft to beta readers for feedback
- Incorporate appropriate feedback into the manuscript
- Self-edit again
- Pass the manuscript off to my amazing editor, Rochelle Deans, for developmental edits
- Incorporate the edits
- Self-edit once more
- On to more beta readers
- More revisions based on feedback
- On to my editor for line edits
- Incorporate last changes
- Self-edit for typos
- Format the manuscript
It’s a long process, but it’s necessary so I can produce the best work possible.
Also in there somewhere is deciding on a title. For me, that often comes midway through the first draft, though sometimes it’s much later.
I enjoy including maps with the stories, so I sketch out a rough example of what I’m looking for, then I seek an artist to convert it into something real.
Cover design is another task. I don’t have the skillset to make my own covers, so I always seek help from outside. For my Red Jade series, I wanted painted images like older style books. They always drew my attention and inspired me, so it seemed fitting, despite the shift away from such covers in contemporary times. When I was ready for covers for my Starsword series, I went with the newer style, still leaning on an artist for support.
And once all that is done, I pass the covers to an animator for posting them on my website. I’ve worked with three animators now, each for a different style, and I love seeing the covers come to life.
What Should You Do?
If you have a story idea, be sure to write it down so you don’t forget it. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a document, on your phone, or on a napkin. Just get it down. It’s your first step on your writing journey.
Expand on your idea when you can. You may have to set time aside in your day to make this happen, even if it’s just ten minutes. You need to support your initial idea with story and plot.
Read. Read. Read. To paraphrase Stephen King, if you don’t read, you can’t write. Reading is important because it will give you ideas on story and sentence structure. It took me a while before I could adhere to this advice. I was always worried I would inadvertently steal someone else’s idea. Yet, once I started, I realized that I already had my own story in my head. I’ve found a lot of books that were written well and others that I wish I could reclaim my time from. It’s a definite learning experience. Don’t skip this step.
When you can, open up a document and type Chapter 1. Then start writing it. Maybe you don’t know where to begin your story. Maybe you only have ideas for the middle. Should you start with description? Backstory? Action? By reading other works, you’ll get a feel for what works. But don’t worry about that now. Just write, even if it’s in the middle of your story.
You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. So put pen to paper. Put fingers to keyboard. You have a unique tale within you. Let it out. Let it breathe. Even if you don’t release it to the world at large, you deserve to have your story told.
Where to Reach Me
Want to learn more, ask questions, or follow me? Check out the links below.
Main site: red-jade.com
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