Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On Writing and Publishing: A Writer Shares Her Limited Knowledge! Part II

Writing: Where Ideas Come From

Who has what it takes to be a writer? My answer to this is, well, anyone. Anyone who has a passion for storytelling, reading, imagining scenarios. Anyone who has the patience to sit in front of the computer, typewriter (yes, I know, what is a typewriter?), or a blank sheet of paper with a pen for an extreme extended period of time. This is usually anywhere from 90 days to a couple of years. 90 days would be a super-fast manuscript, and could probably only be done if you have hours per day to spend on your endeavor. Then, once you’ve finished putting your wonderful, fascinating, unbelievable story down, you have to walk away.


Yup, I said walk away. For at least a couple of weeks, minimum. Why? Because what you’ve put down might have sounded fantastic as you were writing it, but when you go back, you might laugh out loud at what you’ve written. Or you might be pleasantly surprised, sometimes even stunned at what you’ve managed to let leak out of your brain. Those are the best times!

So, now you’ve typed and/or written 75,000+ words. You’re a writer, right? Yup, again. Of course you are; you’ve written something. Are you an author, though? Hmm…that’s a matter of perspective, I suppose. I did not consider myself an author until I had published, sold, and had a few solid reviews on my first book before I felt like an author. I’m sure it’s different for every writer, as to when they feel comfortable with the title of “author”. For me, my reluctance was because it was something I had long dreamed about, longed for, desired. But, out of fear, never pursued. Now, I don’t know why I waited so long!

Anyone who’s ever sat before a blank piece of paper, or a blank computer screen, can understand fully the term “writers block”. We know what we want to fill the whiteness with; it’s the actual execution that stymies us. However, once your pens starts moving, or your fingers start typing, a sort of magic happens. Or at least, it should.

If you want your reader to be transported by your words, then you need to be as well. It doesn’t happen 100% of the time, of course. Well, okay, maybe for some writers, those who write amazing books that pull a reader in and hold them captive until the last page, whereupon the reader will be moved, touched, provoked…at the minimum, upset that the book has ended, that there are no pages to follow. We all wish we could write those, but alas, there are writers few and far between with that kind of immense talent.

Instead, we sit down with an idea, and hope to translate it into something at least vaguely interesting to a few people willing to read our words. But where do those ideas come from?

I can only speak for myself, of course. I’d love to hear from any of you as to where you’re ideas come from. Some of these ideas you can incorporate, some just come from within the strange depths of my crazy brain.

Dreams: It seems clichĂ©, I know, but I honestly do dream up some of my ideas—literally. I can’t say what causes the dreams, but when I wake, if I can remember it, I have an inkling for a story.

Songs: Have you ever listened to a song and heard just a line, even as little as a phrase, and an idea for a story sprouted from there? Maybe it was even just a bar of notes, without any words, that inspired you? If so, write it down. You may not have the whole thing yet, but if you write it down, let it . . . fester, so to speak, you’ll eventually have an idea . . . or not.

Life: I spend a lot of time paying attention. The world is full of stories. You know the phrase, truth is stranger than fiction? It’s true. It’s also far more interesting. Stories from friends, strangers, relatives, even TV shows are great jumping off places. For example, in Geek Girl, I needed a backstory for Jen. One day I was watching a TV show about teens in prison (which broke my heart, by the way) and a boy was telling his childhood story. With a few minor adjustments, voilĂ , I had her backstory. I’m sadly addicted to true-stories on TV, which always makes me wonder what happened in a person’s life to get them to that point, and from there, I wonder, what if they’d taken a different path, made different decisions? And many times from those thoughts, I have a story. (You need to be careful here to make sure you’re making the story your own, changing it to be completely fiction, so that you aren’t treading on someone’s toes.)

Fantasy: I’ve always entertained myself by making up stories in my head. This is a great way to pass time, particularly if you’re bored. Even if you’re not—when I’m on my Harley, it’s my favorite activity to do, and that’s in the middle of having the time of my life! Usually fantasies star yourself. That doesn’t mean that you can’t later take the same idea you just had and transform it into a fictional story using fictional characters. Again, it’s just a jumping off point.

What You Know: This comes in handy best when dealing with non-fiction, but also works for fiction. Had an experience at some point that made a deep impression on you? Put it in your story. In Heart on a Chain there’s a small scene where Kate enters middle school, and is shut out by her friends, destroying any last vestiges of self-esteem she had. Guess what? That happened to me. It was very painful, and so it was a good scene to show Kate’s final push over the edge. Of course, my life was nothing like hers, I found new friends. But it made an impression. So I put it in. Anything you know, that you’ve dealt with, places you’ve lived, people you know, difficulties you’ve survived through—those are all worthy of being used in your books.

What If?:  This is The Big One. All stories begin with, “What if . . .” So once you have an inkling of an idea, just decide what the “what if” is that you want to answer, and you’ve got the conflict of your story.

Those are just a few ideas of where to look for a story to tell. Now comes the fun part—the actual writing. And it should be fun. Like I said earlier, if you aren’t enjoying writing it, it’s doubtful anyone will enjoy reading it. But if you have a passion for writing, I strongly encourage you to get out there and share it with the world. Put it down electronically or on paper, however you prefer, and then fine tune it.

Oh, ugh, I just reminded myself: You have to fine tune it! (*groans*) That’s the un-fun part. But that un-fun part leads to the best part: Becoming a Published Author!

I’m getting ahead of myself here. Those are subjects for later posts. So for now, don’t worry about the rest. Just sit down and write. And then write some more. When you’ve hit the magic mark of 75,000 or 100,000 or 150,000 words (or however many you need), and you feel that your story is complete and has come full circle, give yourself a pat on the back, treat yourself to some ice cream, walk away from your manuscript for a couple of weeks, then re-read it. If you feel like it’s still good, then you have a potential book. Yay!

Next blog, we’ll get into the un-fun. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you: where do you get your ideas from? Please feel free to leave comments about this, or anything else you’d like to comment about.

Have a happy week! :o)


  1. My earliest ideas stemmed from real life--people I knew and experiences I had. A few of them came from dreams, a couple of them were insanely weird, but they were intriguing. Also, some come to me while I'm driving to and from work. I'll be listening to music and thinking about what if's, and the thought turns into a story. I have found that music REALLY makes the difference while I write.

  2. Jessica - I did forget to mention music, didn't I? lol. Glad you brought it up. It also gives me ideas, as well. Isn't it strange how our brains work? I actually had a dream last night that gave me a great idea for a new book -- which I can start when I finish the current one. Or the one after that, or sometime. :o)

  3. Fun post. I like posts like these.

    I've had a few dream ideas pan out, but usually the "genius idea" I wake up with either becomes unworkable or a blatant rip-off from something else.

    I like what Stephen King said (and talked about this more in my own post "Why do I like to write horror stories?"). He said he considers himself more of an archeologist... that rather than creating, he uncovers stories as if they are artifacts.

    That's probably the best way I can describe it. I'll pass by something seemingly normal, and my horror slanted mind comes up with something more insidious.

    And you have a Harley? Awesome. I'm jealous :)

    Paul D. Dail A horror writer's not necessarily horrific blog

  4. p.s.- What I meant to say was that I talked about it more in my own post. Not that Stephen King made a guest appearance in my post. Maybe one day.

    Paul D. Dail A horror writer's not necessarily horrific blog

  5. Paul - How awesome would that be to have Stephen King for a guest on your post???