Where do ideas go?

It could be said that unpublished writers can be divided into roughly two types: those that have lots of partial projects and those that nurse only a few. Well, maybe that’s not entirely fair. But sad tales are not that hard to find of unpublished authors with one nearly finished manuscript that they’ve been working on for the last decade.

It does make me think, though, about what people do with story ideas. Some are clearly big ones that can generate an epic book series (J. K. Rowling comes to mind). Others are only big enough to distract a secondary character for a page-and-a-half, maybe to help differentiate them from the main protagonist. Not that this is a bad thing. A lot of writing requires creation of these little ideas and many many many articles and blog posts are written about where to find these. They can often come out of two characters interacting: it is common during NaNoWriMo for writers to discover that character interactions can drive their story in new and unexpected directions. Sometimes annoyingly so.

However, what do you do when some of those ideas don’t belong in the original story? Do you throw it away? Jam it in anyway? Or put it aside for another story?

In the latest newsletter from the NSW Writers’ Centre, John Saffran has penned an article about creativity. He talks about the advantages of not clinging to one idea, one story, one manuscript for years at a time. Mention is made of working for an advertising executive who required thirty new ideas from you before he would let you pitch any of them at him. Saffran’s point was that you should not be precious about Your One Great Idea. Because no-one else will be.

Song-writers know this. Geoff Bullock has openly said that for every song that people love, there are ten that just don’t work. And that’s just the completed songs. Published authors who spent years writing and selling short stories before getting a novel deal also know this. They often have several stories in progress, and quite a few more they are “shopping around”. They don’t get attached to one idea; they don’t feel they cannot discard a story premise that isn’t working; they are constantly generating new ideas.

Where do you get your story ideas? I have heard Kate Forsyth say that she does some exercise each morning (walking the dog, actually) precisely in preparation for writing. Others say the morning shower is a great place for story writing. I get many of my best ideas walking to or from work, as I have a 20 minute walk to the train station. The trick is finding a place to store them until I can turn them into text. Whether or not they become a story is not the point. The point is that I’m recording them.

So what happens to your ideas? Are you clinging to Your Great Novel? Or do you have fifteen short stories and four novels in various stages of completeness?


Filed under writing

2 responses to “Where do ideas go?

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