12.15.16 - I Have an Idea...

First, thanks so much to Amy for her great piece on the Barnes & Noble Concept Store. Don’t know about you, but I vote for more Amy blogs here, don’t you?

Okay, onward.

One of the questions I get most often is, “JT, where do you get your ideas?”

I answer the same way every time — where don’t I get my ideas?

Ideas are everywhere. They’re the easiest part of being a writer. The world, nay, the universe, is brimming with concepts and inspirations. I can’t walk down the street without coming up with four or five solid concepts.

The question that you should be asking is: “How do you decide which idea to write next?”

This is the tricker of the two questions, mainly because oftentimes, there are deadlines and reader expectations and contractual obligations for stories, especially when you write a series. It would stand to reason that, for the sake of your career, you find a great idea and funnel it directly into your next series book. 

My problem is, I write three series, all slightly different but firmly entrenched in the thriller genre. I also write standalone novels. And I write a couple of short stories every year, too. How do I decide what goes where, and in what order to proceed?

The logical answer is: I focus on deadlines, and try to channel all my energy into the book that’s due next. But sometimes, this is wishful thinking. Sometimes, an idea sparks, and you have to decide whether to abandon your current project to follow that fire.

It’s a tricky business, ideas. I often warn about finishing the story you’re working on lest the trail of half-eaten sandwiches start taking over your house. 

Less disciplined (AKA new) writers often see that shiny new object and pursue it, and end up with multiple unfinished stories. You gotta finish. Rule #1 for a successful writing career.

Because writing is hard. It is. That’s no lie. One of the biggest challenges is sticking with a story to the end when you haven’t done it multiple times and you’re being assailed by cool new ideas.

Personally, I have an Evernote folder for every book, current and upcoming. When I see a cool, shiny new idea, I clip it to Evernote, open a Scrivener file with the concept laid out (I call these “treatments”) and move on with my current story. This works 90% of the time.

But every once in a while, an idea is too good to pass up, and I all-stop on a project to write it. NO ONE KNOWS is a good example of that. So is THE OMEN DAYS. And it’s just happened again. I’ve been working on a new standalone, but something’s been holding me back — an idea that bloomed fully-formed in my head back in August. I wrote it all down, gave it a Scrivener file and an Evernote notebook, but it’s been eating at me. I finally stopped the standalone and indulged this new idea. 50 pages later, I have a super weird, surreal horror story finished, and now, at last, I can return to the standalone unencumbered.

For me, it’s a fine balance between controlling (though corralling is perhaps the better term) the new ideas (Shiny! Exciting! Happy!) and finishing the current work in progress (WIP = long hard slog). It gets easier with practice. And as Stephen King says, when an idea is so great that you don’t need to write it down, you know it’s a keeper. I still write everything down, just in case, but I’d amend King’s concept to this: the idea that won’t leave you alone is the one you need to write next.

Just make sure you FINISH!!!