Sunday, October 25, 2009

Where do you get your ideas?

Managed to get 22,000 words in this week in between work, soccer games, horseback riding, volleyball practice and general survival activities. (ie: shopping, laundry, cooking, cleaning) We’ve got lots of steamy sex scenes, cheating boyfriends, murdered best friends—all the staples of a good story.

In the midst of all that, I got the standard “Where do you get your ideas?” question from a patient who is also an aspiring writer. The question made me think about the creativity and great storytelling in the books I’ve enjoyed reading and how intimidating that can be to a new writer. Because I remember being in absolute awe upon finishing a book I really loved and thinking I could NEVER come up with something like that.

My criteria for a good read has always revolved around the story being not only unforgettable, but also how well the author keeps me wondering—and wanting more. I’ve always been disappointed in a book if it was predictable. Basically, if I could have written it, I think it’s boring.

Which is why I never thought I could write a book. Because, if I wrote it, it’d be…well…boring.

That’s mostly because I’ve never considered myself to be a terribly creative person. I think of myself as pretty much common-sense-down-to-Earth. And that’s why I give so much credit to my Muse and the things he comes up with to keep me awake all night. When I go back and read my work the first time through for edits, I’m always surprised to find myself not bored. Even smiling sometimes. Who would have thunk?

So, back to the question: Where do I get my ideas? Seriously, my two novels started with the tiniest spark. A fun name popped into my head. (Dusty Lane for a cowboy and Lucifer Cain for a demon.) That’s it. Then I just took that and ran with it. No outline. No plot arc. Just me and my Muse. He figures out how to put my ‘fun name’ character into a situation that he needs to be written out of. Then we write.

The point of all of this is that everyone has a story to tell, (even me, it turns out.) and the way each of us tells it is likely to be different, and maybe even exciting to the people who didn’t write it. So, when you get that idea—no matter how small—don’t think it’s useless because it’s been done or doesn’t seem exciting enough. Take it and run with it—and trust your Muse. Because you never know how it’s going to turn out until it’s done. And maybe I—and a whole bunch of other people—would love it.


  1. "My criteria for a good read has always revolved around the story being not only unforgettable, but also how well the author keeps me wondering—and wanting more."

    Lisa I totally agree with that statement! That's pretty much how I gauge how good a manuscript is while I'm reading it. If I set it down halfway through and don't think about it once, then I know it has not done the job.

  2. I think life itself is so quirky, unexpected and comical that any writer could store up a lifetime of ideas for dozens of books just by existing every day. I'll often have something so bizzare or unprecedented happen to me that it feels like it needs to be written down in a novel so it doesn't die forever. It's a writer's job to capture these incidents.

  3. Anna—

    Absolutely. And there’s so many books and so little time. Why would you ever pick it up again?


    That's so true. How many times do you say to a friend/partner, "You won't believe what happened today!" I think writers miss some of those opportunities.

  4. I'm continually amazed not just where my ideas come from but what they evolve into once I start writing. And you are right, ideas are everywhere, and when one strikes like lightning take it and run with it.

    Happy writing!

  5. Paul--

    And I try to keep those ideas freeform. I let my muse/charachters decide what's going to become of them. I just get out of the way, otherwise I tend to want to "manage" them instead of just letting it happen.