Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Shiny, Happy Ideas and Miserable Writers

When someone asks me where I get my ideas, I try to keep my eyes from rolling back in my head and give them a good answer.  But here's the truth, and it's something other writers know all too well:

I get ideas everywhere.

And I mean everywhere.  Vacuuming my house, on the highway, in the middle of a movie, talking with a friend, eating lentil soup, cleaning the wax from my ears.

I am under a constant barrage of ideas.  Writers don't see and hear things the same way nonwriters do.  All it takes is the right turn of phrase or casual dissemination of info and our minds start whirring, grinding out a plethora of what-ifs.

This might sound great, and most of the time when that Shiny, Happy Idea comes (SHI - ooh, that's a close one) along, I flirt with it, imagine who the characters are, what the cover will look like.  This honeymoon phase lasts anywhere from seconds to days until I think of my last SHI or another SHI pops into my head.

The best SHIs get a page of notes in a file titled backburner, some even have their own notebooks.  I'm always convinced my SHIs are marinating while I work on books that are under contract or deadline.  I'm positive I can write them all THIS YEAR and then I sit down to work on them and some of the shininess and happiness fades away, replaced with lots of questions.

Who are these characters?
What happens to them?
Most often—what was I thinking?

Sometimes that marinating time doesn't work it turns out.  Sometimes a SHI is just like all those shiny, happy objects that sparkle and catch our fancy in life but turn out to be pieces of junk.  It can be a miserable feeling when you sent down with your folder full of SHIs and come away feeling deflated.

What to do?

Pick a SHI and explore it.  Look for inspirational pics on Pinterest, find one and free write for 15 minutes.  Name your characters.  The problem with Shiny, Happy Ideas is that that's all they are–ideas. Books need a lot more than ideas.  They need bones and muscle and tissue, teeth and marrow.  Books need flesh and blood.  Wannabe writers create Shiny, Happy Ideas.  Writers create books.

So when you pull that Shiny, Happy Idea out and discover it's a little tarnished, decide if you want to chuck it back in the drawer or polish it up and remember, an idea kept in a drawer never becomes a book.


  1. I totally get this. I have a word doc called "Story Ideas". I'm up to about 15+ ideas that have been inspired by something. I laughed at the cleaning earwax comment. Very funny.

  2. This is so true. Choosing and developing and sticking with an idea is the hard part...not coming up with them.

  3. Andrew, my story ideas folder is getting a little large in the middle.

    Now if I can just pick one!

  4. I have this problem all the time! I carry around a mini-journal that can fit into my jacket pocket or purse in case an idea hits me. Then I'll think it's really awesome and want to write it... except when I sit down to type up the idea all the shininess has usually faded.