I've read various blog posts lately from different authors about the processes they go through as they take their book from initial idea to finished novel. In each case, I have found their processes to be detailed and thorough—truly exceptional in every one, except for one minor detail—they would never work for me. But that's okay, I've found a process of my own, and I'm quite certain it wouldn't (and won't) work for many, if not most. That being said, I'm still going to share my process here, as there may be a trick or two that someone may find helpful. The key is to ultimately find a process that works for you, as an individual, which will enable you to take that idea out of your head and put it in a form that the whole world will be able to enjoy. Here's mine.
Step 1. Have an epiphany. Yeah, sure, just like that, right? Well...yes, kinda. Think about it for a minute and chances are, you already have some idea of what you want to write about. At the bare minimum you likely at least know whether it's fiction, non-fiction and/or what sub-genre/category your writing will fit into.
You at least know you want to write. Right?
From there, having an epiphany about your material is really as simple as opening your mind to the possibilities—all of them. For example, my current book started when I was stuck in traffic one day and off-handedly thought, I sure wish I had a flying car right about now so that I could rise above everyone and fly to my destination. A ridiculously silly thought, I know, but rather than toss that thought into my mental wastebasket, I let it roll around for a while, which then led to other observations:
1. "As much as I'd love a flying car, I'm clearly not all that special, which means that if I had a flying car, everyone else would too, and we'd all be stuck in the same traffic jam, just 50 feet off the ground."
2. "Of course, there's more open space up there, so we could fit more vehicles...so maybe there wouldn't be a jam after all."
3. "Then again, this all this land on the ground used to be wide open at one point in time, and even today there are plenty of wide open spaces, but we still drive on designated roads, I guess because that's what we're supposed to do."
4. "So, even if we all had flying cars, we'd probably all have to filter into some kind of air/roadway system, just to keep us all in line."
5. "Hmmmm...so...if we apply this logic to outer space, I guess the same principles would apply. So, in the vast alien civilization that surely resides somewhere deep "out there," their ships must be required to use interstellar highways, right? Or are they allowed to fly anywhere they want to with the hope that no two will ever collide?"
This train of thought, quickly led to my epiphany, which translated into the initial incident for one of my protagonists—a non-terrestrial who is stuck in traffic on his way to work from his home planet to the main "business district" planet, and is subsequently fired for being late.
As you can see, there's nothing miraculous about the epiphany stage. It really is nothing more than allowing your mind to wander freely, while not discounting any possibilities, no matter how ridiculous or silly they may seem at the time.
In the next part, Step Two: Fleshing Out the Epiphany. I will discuss how I determine if there is really a story there, or if it's just a great idea with nowhere to go.