Whenever we start on a new creative piece, it seems to me that there are two main ways in which we begin the process.
Have a general concept in mind first, then fill in the content; or
Start writing/composing/drawing, then allow the concept or story to fall out as you go.
I am more likely to have a concept that I want to write around in my head first, then I let the detail fill itself in. Sometimes, the details will slightly alter the big picture, but not enough to take it completely off course.
So which type of creator are you? The concept first or the content first? Both, depending on the project?
I guess we all have to find our own way there. And some projects will move differently because that is what is needed – by the project, not necessarily my conscious desires (seeing I try to never be the God of my music).
Film Score, of course, tends to be pretty externally directed as the story and vision are already there. I can’t just say, “Oh but I want to make Princess Leia the baddie and make the theme go Baa Baa ba ba Baaa” because I don’t like the color of her eyes. Leia is all that is naturally good so I have to follow that.
However, I still need to find the thread that I want to build from. Sometimes I see that on first viewing of the script or edit, others my direction comes clear to me after I have played some parts.
With my personal albums, the latter is the most common course. If I am “lucky” I see the concept within a track or two and the other tracks are designed to fit that. Sometimes an album’s meta-story will elude me right down to when I am making the cover art. In hindsight, I realize that it was just me being difficult, not wanting to accept the vision that was already there.
Art is about us saying something so I think we always have that concept floating there first. That is what drives us to start the work. We just don’t always want to make that reason conscious – for better or worse.
My current album (in progress): the first track was written & named based on a feel. The second track I named to match the first. Then the idea of making it an actual story showed itself. I had to unveil the plot so I could make the right markers to show the story. Still, elements of what that story really means and (hopefully) says become clearer as time goes by and I see the fullness of the album.
I’m the same when it comes to not trying to control my creativity to the nth degree. I don’t write my characters’ personalities as much as they seem to reveal themselves to me.
With my first novella, I wasn’t actually sure where the story was going to go until I’d written it. The base concept of a map being found inside a fortune cookie was really the only piece of hard context I had. The protagonist has some basis in myself (but definitely not me), but most of what we write tends to have elements of ourselves embedded in them.
My current novel was the first one I planned out the story fully from the beginning. Some minor details have changed as I’ve gone along, but for the most part, it hasn’t deviated from that core idea.