This morning I stepped out of the shower with, what at the time was an explosively awesome idea. I was giddy. I was beaming. I had to tell someone. And my wife was in the next room.
I don't know how I managed, but I married the most perfect woman in the world for me. Assuming aliens aren't landing, she isn't trying to get the kids out the door to school, or some other crises that requires her immediate attention, she is always a few minutes to patiently listen to whatever silly idea has popped into my head. And then patiently redirect my energy to actually writing things down.
Today's insanity was "What if the Iliad-07 was a ship full of dinosaur refugees instead of humans." First off, I'm fully aware that is a complete rip off of the Silurians from Dr. Who. And actually as soon as the words left my lips, I realized that following this idea would basically mean scrapping all of the spreadsheets I had developed thus far on Human agriculture, human population patterns, human history, and even human psychology. I would then have to go off and invent all of that for this race of Dinosaurs, or aliens, or whatever they ended up being.
I bring this story up because it is a very important part of the writing process. Any idiot can have a brilliant idea in the shower. A slightly more talented person can pad that idea out into a conversation. But ideas make their way into books not because they are good, or bad, but because they fit with the rest of the story so far.
Writing isn't the process of writing things down. It's the process of taking a giant mess of things that were written down, and editing them into a coherent work. My day job is a software engineer, and coding is the same way. I dream things up, I try them out, only rarely do they work. I've writing software my entire adult life, and this trial, evaluation, acceptance/deletion process has been a constant.
What makes me a good programmer is that I'm a) aware that every idea I have isn't gold and b) the process by which I test that an idea really does work. Or not work. And that I keep a lot of notes (mental or otherwise) on what didn't work, and why.
Is it disappointing when something that seemed so perfect doesn't pan out? I'd be dead inside if I didn't say "hell yes." But that shouldn't stop anyone from trying. Pain is the sound of weakness leaving the body. Disappointment is the sound of the mind reconciling dream with reality.
My personal action hero of a brother once said to me (on the discomfort and injury of working in the field in the Army): "On maneuvers they used to tell us that pain is good. Pain means that you are still alive. It's when you stop feeling something that you REALLY need to be concerned."
And keep in mind that despite 6 years of that pain, he never actually went into battle with an enemy. He served in the 90s, before 9/11. Most of his time was spent in the Mojave Desert conducting war games as the Opposing Force.
Every unit, save one, has ultimately lost to the OpFor. At least on their first try. Most lose, oddly enough, because of a lack of imagination. These are usually officers who are in charge of their first combat units, and are working straight from the academic lessons that they were taught. They take paths that are seemingly obvious. They deploy their forces in ways that are obvious. They end up being overwhelmed because OpFor knows perfectly well what is obvious, and exploit every weakness they can.
And yet, dying at Fort Irwin is actually considered a rite of passage. Everyone does it. It's like a real-life Kobayashi Maru. You are presented with your failures in the face of what, on paper, should have been a victory. Many battlefield commanders cite their experience of having died at Ft. Irwin for what save them from making a similar mistake in a real battle.
This little aside was to remind me, and you dear reader, that some efforts pay off only later. Sometimes the pay off isn't even for the person who made the effort. We can think we know the right answer, because it seems obvious. And yet, most disasters are caused because reality is not obvious. Heck, reality doesn't even have a concept of "right".
Civilization and Culture comes about because people step out of the shower and write down stupid ideas. For all we know when Archimedes was running, still wrapped in a towel through the streets yelling "EUREKA!", the entire town was performing a collective eyeroll wondering "what is it this time..."
With all of that said... between Ginger and I we did sort of work out that a cast of Dinosaurs would end up being written just like a cast full of humans. You would just slip in every once in a while a reference to their anatomy where it differs from human anatomy, have different livestock, and probably invent the same variety and agricultural crops that I have already sorted out for human crops.
A great story to be told, but not at the expense of the sheer amount of world-building I've done to develop a setting around a human culture living in a speculative fiction.
But... For book 2, what if the Iliad ends up running into an alien race? Eh?