It's funny, I consider myself a writer, and yet my Comic Curves have dealt with everything but story construction. Mera was conceived in a very strange way. I don't think I'd recommend anyone starting out their writing career this way. Even though this is my first published book, I have written several other pieces (with their own eccentricities and problems) prior to taking on this challenge. I never make it easy on myself, but I never get bored either.
Mera started as an album, an EP really, at only 6 songs and 25 minutes there wasn't a lot of meat in that package. I like the way the songs fit together and they were written through a very specific point in my life. I didn't want to add more songs, but I didn't think I can get away with just selling half a cd. Then I heard about this crazy Tori Amos anthology book Comic Book Tattoo. In it, several artists and writers made short comics related to (but not derivative of) different Tori Amos songs. I love the book and it got me thinking about music in a visual way. I wanted to do the same thing with my songs, only I wanted to do all the comic work too.
I quickly decided that I was one artist and played one album, I should write one story, so I ditched the comic shorts approach and decided to break my book into chapters titled after the songs. I knew that the songs explored some similar themes and used some of the same allusions, but I still had no real idea about a story. I wrote out the lyrics to all six songs and read through them a few times each day. I eventually decided on the metaphors I wanted to grab onto. Several songs dealt with water and several songs dealt with loss. I chose a couple nondescript characters (sailor and mermaid) and I was off.
Personally, I do most of my planning stuff by hand. I'll write scripts on the computer, but I can think faster when I can jot musings sloppily all over a page. I actually wrote all of Mera in and on a blank calendar. You have to write when the moment hits you, and then all my materials were already collected in a book so I just kept writing there through the whole process.
I allotted myself 8 pages per song which would make a 48 page book. This wasn't super long, but it felt like a nice companion length for the cd. I want both book and cd to stand on their own, but they should support each other. I knew my album followed a pretty specific pace and I wanted the book to accompany that. The 8 page guidelines gave me a rigid structure to follow, which could be limiting in some situations. I feel like it helped give me an attainable set of goals to work toward. At this point I felt like I had a pretty good idea, but I also didn't have any sort of story.
I'll get into coming up with that story next time, but I do think it's worth noting how much time I spend in the pre-planning or brainstorming stage. I've just started plotting a new project and I've had these ideas stewing for a year or more. 3rd World was bouncing around for several years before I even thought I'd actually make comics. You've got to be a thinker to be a writer, of course, you've also got to eventually get those ideas onto a page.