I’ve spent decades writing software. And writing about writing software. (Six books. Seventh on the way.)

In software engineering we often laugh over the idea that anything worth engineering is worth over-engineering. And we gleefully over-engineer some things.

Anyone who’s used a computer knows that we also under-engineer some things in order to get a product shipped. We all know that perfection is the sworn enemy of completion.

The trick with #amWriting is to avoid the urge to write and rewrite and rewrite. Polishing is important. But. Ideas seem to flow most freely where there isn't too much editing.

For me, it feels like there’s a kind of balanced whole-brain thing going on. One side of the brain has the linguistic skills to write. The other side of the brain isn’t quite so linguistically enabled. It feels like inspiration comes from letting the less-verbal half of the brain interrupt with gestures, nods, and images to steer the story in new directions.

In a way, it’s akin to saying something stupid and embarrassing at a party. Except, there’s no party, it’s just me. And the stupid and embarrassing things become words in the mouths of characters. The hard part is to avoid imposing an editorial process of rewriting when I need to let my imagination run around a little.

When in doubt...

The 36 Dramatic Situations from Georges Polti.

The 7 Basic Plots from Christopher Booker.

Sometimes, these provide details to flesh out my own nascent ideas. I’m a huge fan of the details in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as a structure for SFF stories.

There’s this, too: http://www.mftd.org/index.php?action=atu But looking at all the folkloric motifs that are potential story elements is a potentially giant time sink

Also. Tarot Cards. Seriously. I like this for minor characters. Deal a small tableau of five cards showing the character with four additional cards. “Moving From”, “Moving To”, “Avoiding,” and “Embracing.” The From-Character-To sequence of cards is a three-act arc of a character’s story. The avoiding and embracing sections are two things the character must learn as part of that story.

Without a free flow of ideas, I tend to default to technical-style writing. Lots of exposition without enough drama. Over-engineering. Editing. I’m good at it — and it’s habitual — but it’s no fun to read.