My secret is this: No one knows for sure what they're doing until they've done it.
That's, I think, why writing is so hard. We work from ideas, from glances, from nothing but words. I'm reminded of something I remember Kate DiCamillo saying when she visited Vermont: "I hate writing. I love having written."
I think that's all about the secret. As writers, we're all the time trying to figure out what the heck is going on in our story. If we don't know, who does? There's the rub. Only we can get our own story to the point of being understood, and there's a period of writing when new bits pop up at us, and the others we know are lurking out there will evade us. We just have to keep at it.
We build whole books, whole worlds, whole people, from tiny inspirations grown to show something bigger, or huge inspirations distilled to the most vibrant bits.
Novels, picture books, whatever. They rarely come to the writer whole.
The good news? We can catch them. That's the magic of writing. The more we wander with a story, the more it comes together, even when we feel as if it's just some amorphous thing that'll never make sense to a brain other than ours -- even when it's all we can do to hope to put the puzzle pieces together.
This echos what others have said so far this week: keeping a journal may help you catch your story, so might gathering quotes and reminders. For me, it's all about spending time in the story. I just threw out a complete draft of my next novel. But the time I spent on it wasn't time wasted. Because it's all in the wandering. And my new draft is stronger, as a story. I know more than I did when I started, than when I finished the other draft. This new draft is still a wandering draft. Eventually, it will become a book.
When it comes time for the work to be read, it'll look like I knew what I was doing all alone.
The secret is, we usually don't start out with a map. Just with what little light we can shine on the words that present themselves.
Somehow, an Elvis made of Post-It Notes seems appropriate to this secret. I'll bet there was a time in the process when it looked like nothing but a mess of sticky notes. And now? The King.