The first idea I ever had about Joy in the Ordinary was the hero’s name. I thought of it about fifteen years ago, actually. I was in the midst of typing up my incredibly long, poorly researched Civil War novel (later banished to an attic) and the name just came to mind. I began a vague idea about the fellow, only one part of which survived the passage of time–what kind of girl he would eventually marry. Back then I had no thought of writing a novel set in present-day. I was an awkward teenager who felt out of touch with the fad items of the time, and I thought that one had to be “in” with all that in order to succeed in writing. When I set out to write Joy, I figured adding too many fad items would quickly date the book, rather like watching the 1995 remake of Sabrina and seeing what was then the “hot” technological items–Harrison Ford’s car phone with antennae? Oh, and that fads are for the most part ridiculous. So I gave it a shot.
Probably the most fun part of writing, for me at least, is finding out where your characters go. What motivates them? Where are they going to end up? Who do they meet along the way? Sometimes its maddening when they don’t do what you want them to do–when the plot veers off in a new direction but then eventually you come to terms with it and it ends up being better than your original thought (or worse, and then you scrap it and go back to the crossroads). I literally had to rethink the end of my story two weeks before it went to editing! One character was added four months before I finished the book, and he became so essential to the plot I had to rework four chapters! At times like that I think of Tolkien and something he said about his hero Aragorn. Apparently he had no idea he was going to include Aragorn until he “ran into him” in the chapter of the Fellowship regarding the Inn of the Prancing Pony (or something like that)! Amazing.
I do my best planning for writing while doing the chores. Folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, vacuuming, watering the garden, that sort of thing. Usually if I have time to do the chores, the children are safely occupied. 😉 Sometimes I write these ideas down, but mostly I mentally shelve them until the moment comes up in the plot when I can use them–then I write a lot faster and longer that evening, as the idea’s had time to take shape and I’ve already pictured how it’s going to play out. I’m not sure which is best or easiest come to think on it, but then, is there really a hard and fast method that works for every writer?