For me, the first idea that I have IS the beginning of my writing. Since I’m an organic writer and don’t outline my novels, I’m not sure of any other way to look at it. I believe in pursuing rabbit trails that the ideas take me down. It’s all part of the creative process.
In his book “On Writing” (which I recommend), Stephen King compares writing a story to unearthing an archeological dig. He believes the story is intact and he’s just there to brush it off and uncover it.
This is a helpful illustration for me of the writing process. I find an idea and I brush away at it to see where it might lead, and then I think of something else that might be clearly related or that might be quite different indeed. Then I brush that off to see if they’re connected in some way that hadn’t been apparent at first, or if maybe they lead me into a different direction entirely. Every idea is a doorway to the next.
I’ve been collecting ideas for years and have them in my files on my computer. It’s really not possible to track backward to the genesis of the ideas that I use in my books, but usually writing a novel takes me six months to a year and all that time I’m continually looking back over my ideas to see which ones I can weave into the story.
I have first tier and second tier ideas, character traits and quirks, discarded ideas from previous books, scene descriptions I’ve come up with while I’m sitting in traffic, and so on. At this point in time I probably have hundreds of pages of scrap ideas.
Writing a story is not a straight, step-by-step process. It’s always an interplay of responding to the unfolding narrative, going back and forth from my idea files to the story, and watching how everything merges and reforms itself into the final product. It’s a dance, and I’m just here to help introduce the two partners, and then listen to the music and watch them take it from there.