I’ve been hanging around wannabe writers and emerging authors for a long time and can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone ask, “How do you come up with ideas?” The question is always directed to folks in the established writing world like bestselling or midlist authors, sometimes an agent or editor. The responses they receive are normally something simple like, “They just pop into my head.” Such answers seem to disappoint my inquisitive cohorts. They often look confused as if expecting a detailed textbook answer. I’ve never understood the question because I’m inundated with ideas, everyday, everywhere.
How do you not get ideas?
Maybe whoever is asking really wants to know something else altogether; like, how to thread ideas into a perfect plotline? Perhaps they know they have ideas, but don’t credit them as such because they’re too close-to-home to see as “real.” I don’t know. Something’s awry because even though I hear the question often, I don’t see or hear about people doing research on the subject. With all the writing self help books recommended to me, I’ve never known anyone to recommend one on this topic. The writing conferences seem to go the same way.
At a writers’ conference a few years ago, I was running late for a session on writing query letters when I hurried into the wrong room. Only two other guests were present. One of the panelists mentioned being stunned they didn’t have a better turn out since coming up with ideas was basic to writing. I recalled seeing this how-to-find-ideas topic on the agenda and crossing it off. I honestly would’ve stayed to not disappoint the speakers further, but I had a desperate need to improve my query letter writing skills. I apologized and left. That was the first time I’d seen that topic in any writing workshop or conference, and I’ve never seen it since.
I read an article years ago written by Lawrence Block where he talked about taking an idea from another author. He said he’d heard Don Westlake had written the beginning chapters of a book about a woman being raped on her wedding day. The woman and her husband then took off after the rapists to exact revenge. Block saw this as an interesting plot and, when he didn’t see any further development on the book, he contacted Westlake and learned he’d decided to chuck it. Block asked, and got approval from Westlake, to use his idea. He wrote the book and titled it, Deadly Honeymoon. Lawrence Block has written over a hundred books, so could volume cause you to run out of ideas? No way! Block got this idea like all of the rest of us get ours. Something hit him as interesting for a book. The only hinge here was he’d have to get approval to use it.
Think about the many times you’ve heard someone say, “I should write a book.” Every unusual or meaningful experience we have— news reports, things we witness, experiences and events every single day could be topics for books, storylines, right? Even Lawrence Block, who’s written so much, wakes up to a new world each and every day.
If I ever make it to a level where people ask me how I get my ideas, I’ll tell them, “Just like you do.” Only, I think I might add a little textbook explanation to help them understand how simple it really is.
Linda Thorne began pursuing her true passion, writing, in 2005. Since then, she’s published numerous short stories in magazines and four in an anthology by the Nashville Writers Meetup Group. Her debut novel, Just Another Termination, published by Black Opal Books in August 2015, tells the story of Judy Kenagy the first human resources manager to turn sleuth or, at least, the first to admit it. Just Another Termination is the first in a planned series of Judy Kenagy novels. She is currently working on the second in the series, A Promotion to Die For. Like her lead character, Thorne is a career human resources manager. She’s lived in the greater Nashville area of Tennessee since 2008 with her husband and two border collies, Abby and Mo. http://www.lindathorne.com