I have never really been the type of writer who finds inspiration for a story by people watching or otherwise going out into the world as strictly an observer. Some of my stories have been born out of active living, participation rather than passive observation. Even more of my story ideas have whacked me on the head in the middle of nowhere with no clear indication of where they came from. I am also not the type of writer bound to write what I know.
These stories which go bump in the night, crawl out from under my bed with desperate, bony, grasping fingers and begging to be told are most likely ignited by a desire to learn more about something, if I had to trace them back to anything. For instance, my current WIP is inspired by Middle Eastern mythology. I have always been interested in mythology, starting with the commercially popular brand of Greek and Roman (probably thanks in part to watching Disney’s Hercules way too much as a child).
As I learned more about my ancestry (Scandinavian-ish), my interests shifted to Norse mythology, folklore, and fairy tales. With the current state of affairs in the Middle East and the emphasis on the Islamic religion in politics, I became curious about the evolution of Middle Eastern beliefs and history. I just wanted to understand how they got from point A to point B and learn what point A even was.
Americans know very little about cultures outside of our own and I think that is sad. So when I got hit with the inspiration to write about Ancient Persian djinn I was able to both contribute to my understanding of a very important country and culture but also develop some pretty cool what I think are original plot ideas, settings, and character types.
When I am struck by sudden inspiration for a specific type of story (not just random, mismatched pieces of several stories) I tend to start writing immediately. I saved my current WIP for NaNoWriMo though I only had to wait about a month before I began writing. My second WIP that I haven’t fully committed to was one such story that I had to just sit down and begin writing straight away.
I usually don’t outline because I don’t give myself a lot of time to plan at the beginning. I allow the story to sort of serendipitously flow through me and tell itself. I don’t remember where I heard this (feel free to link to a course in the comments) but the best advice about writing a first draft I have ever gotten was “The first draft is you telling the story to yourself. The second draft is you telling the story to other people.” There is definitely a huge difference in explaining something to someone else as opposed to doing it yourself.
I have never loved my first drafts. I doubt I will ever write something and love it without editing and extensive rewriting. My first drafts are probably most like a box of Legos I just dump out, spread across the floor, and then build from the jumble. Some writers may leave the pieces in the box, choosing only the ones that will contribute to the final structure. I have never ever been this kind of writer. Or person.
That being said, weirdly my stories are often character driven. I will develop my character as I write but I usually begin with a fairly clear personality in my head, probably more based on myself and people I know than anyone else as I said before I do not enjoy people watching to build characters. I love starting off with my focus on one main character with some kind of flaw. My main WIP’s main character is a high school girl who suffers from debilitating shyness (a weakness inspired by own struggles with introversion and social anxiety).
I will sometimes use character questionnaires to fill out a character a little more during the first draft process or if I am struggling to write their perspective. Many writing blogs and websites have these questionnaires available if you choose to go this route for your own character development. The questions range from easy demographic ones like “What is your character’s hair color?” to more thought-provoking questions like “What is your character’s deepest fear?”
During the first draft, though I will work without an outline, I do not shy away from research. It can sometimes lead me on a tangent but my motivation for writing is in part driven by a desire to learn so I count it as part of the process. I also do not want to write a historically inaccurate detail in a major point in the story and have that detail derail my entire plot.
And that is essentially what I work from. It is by no means efficient nor would I recommend it to everyone but I think having an individualistic process is important to creating original content. Just follow your instincts, always be open to new ideas, and don’t be afraid to do that Google search in the middle of a big scene.