Ever made bread? I mean, make it from scratch: mixed up the flour and the oil and the water, waited for the yeast to bubble up, kneaded the dough, slide it into the oven, and wait for it to come out all golden brown and crusty on the outside…
The most important part of the entire process is waiting for the dough to rise. You could skip this step and put the dough straight into the oven after kneading it, but it wouldn’t be that wonderfully fluffy, tender dough that we all love to bite into and savor. It’d probably come out flat as a pancake and be tough and hard as a rock to boot.
Writing a novel is much like this. First there’s the spark of the idea that you mix with your imagination and your excitement, then you wait for the premise to bubble up to the surface, and then you knead the mixture until it yields something resembling a story. But is it ready to be written yet? Not quite. If you’re a “pantser,” maybe — those who prefer to write by the seat of their pants will want to dive right in without waiting for the dough to rise, but for meticulous (ok, anal) bakers like yours truly, you know that giving it the proper amount of time to rise by examining it from all angles, developing the themes, developing the key plot points — and yes, putting this all together in a solid outline — will make all the difference in the world.
And this is the stage I find myself in right now. I’m so excited about this story idea, I can barely stand it. I think about it day and night. Scenes, themes, symbols, plot developments materialize out of thin air. Characters come out of my head, like Athena coming out of Zeus. I’ve never been in love like this before, and it feels FANTASTIC.
I want to shove this thing into the oven already and get it baking, so I can take it out, smother butter all over it, and devour it all in one sitting. But I know I can’t. If I do it now — before it’s truly had a chance to form — it’ll come out flat and tough and not at all what I was hoping for or expecting. It’ll be a waste of a good idea, just as rushing bread dough would be a waste of the perfectly good ingredients that went into making it.
So I’m forcing myself to take the time and go through all of the steps necessary to develop the story. Get to know the characters and the world. Build a strong, sound story structure that will sustain it throughout all three (yes, three!) books of the series. And I know in the end, I’ll be happy I took the time to do this.
Even if right now, I just want to get my hands on the damn bread and eat it all up :).