Category Archives: book ideas

“I’ve got a great idea for a story”

I’ve heard a lot of people say that.  Sometimes, when I hear the idea, I agree with them; sometimes I don’t.  But here’s the thing that I realized after having spent over a decade of my life as a writer:

The Idea is the Least of the Important Parts.

To be clear, I am not saying that it is unimportant.  Ideas are great.  A great idea can be the foundation for an amazing story.  But of all of the many important parts that go into writing a story, the idea is the least important one.

For years, I guarded my ideas like gold.  I was uncomfortable with the thought of letting other people read my work because, dammit, I didn’t want anyone stealing my amazing ideas!

One of the first clues I got to the mistake I was making was when I realized a basic truth of storywriting: we’re all stealing ideas all the time.  Sometimes it’s obvious.  When I was younger, in particular, it was a bit of a problem, I’d see a movie or read a book, something would resonate, and I’d write a story disturbingly similar to it.  Over time I became more sophisticated in my thefts, but make no mistake, they’re all over the place.  Whether it’s choosing to write from a particular perspective, or a moment in time designed to evoke a feeling I had when reading something else, all of my ideas are patchworks of things I’ve read other places or done other places.

Have you ever watched an old movie?  Something that someone else told you was ‘amazing’ and ‘revolutionary’ and found yourself thinking, ‘please, I’ve seen this a dozen times, and done much better, too!’?  Of course you have.  The first time I watched Psycho I was terribly disappointed.  I knew the big twist at the end, but even if I didn’t, the possibility would have occurred to me fairly quickly.  A major character who doesn’t ever appear and is only ever interacting with one other character?  Come on.

But the reason it’s so obvious now, the reason it’s been done so many times is because it was so revolutionary at the time.  The reason it was done better later is because so many other people stole it.  That’s what you do.  That’s what writing is.  You take what’s there, you mix it up with other stuff, try to do it better than it was ever done before, and when you fail, you try again.

The fact that there are so few new ideas is sort of the point, though.  Whether or not you have a great idea, the point of a story is to use it well.

I’m reminded of the movie ‘throw mama from the train.’  The story of a writer teaching a writing course who gets into a quid pro quo murder scheme with one of his students.  When everything is said and done, they both write books about it.  The student writes  a children’s pop up book, and the teacher writes an award winning novel.  The same information went in, but each of them took very different journeys from there.

Ideas are great, but don’t worry about them.  You’ll have plenty.  And for god’s sake, don’t ask a writer to write your idea for you.  It’s taken us a lifetime to figure out how to screw up our own stories.

PeNoWriMo

September is going to be my PeNoWriMo.  My personal novel writing month.  I’ve got a new project in mind.  I have an outline written out, I’ve done quite a bit of world building… arguably too much world building, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’m ready to go.  I’m looking at doing 70,000 words, so 2,334 words a day.

I’m excited!  I’m rearing to go!  I need to check back over all my work to make sure I’m not forgetting anything!

Wish me luck, folks.

The promotion game

I just finished the first draft of my big promotion ploy.  There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done on it.  Like, oodles.  The end product is actually going to be another book.  Not a full length novel like what I normally write, but a book, something to be published and sold…. Even so, I count it as a promotional device, something that will, hopefully, get people to try out my other books.  The ‘real’ books.

Sorry I can’t go into too many details right here and now, I don’t want to spoil the surprise just yet.  The thing that’s frustrating to me is that even though this project is, itself, a promotional tool,I’m going to have to try to promote it as a product unto itself.  The reason that this might work is that the new book is designed to be more of an attention getter than my novels have been.  Novels have a tendency to get swallowed up in the tide of new literature that’s released every year.  Unless something draws people to it, unless something makes them stop and stare for a second, their eyes just float right over it.

So I’m making a decoy book, something that is meant to make people stop, stare, and read, with the hope that they will then say, ‘hey, what a clever writer, what else has he written?’ which will, hopefully, lead them to my ‘real books.’

It’s a bit absurd, but let’s be honest, if you’re an artist and you want to make a living as an artist, absurd is just the first stop on your trip to crazytown.

Thanks for sharing, now please stop

The other day an older relative of mine came up to me and told me that he had an idea for a book.

I smiled politely, listened to the idea, and tried to give him the impression that I appreciated the idea and would certainly keep it in mind for the future.

I’ve already forgotten the idea.

I’m sure that it happens in all of the arts, people coming up and telling you what you should do next, but I honestly think that it’s worse for the storytellers.  Whether you write books, plays, movies, commercials… whatever it is that you do, everybody, an I mean everybody, has at least one idea for that medium that they think is pure gold.

Here’s the thing people: your idea might very well be brilliant!  It might be the greatest story idea that anybody has ever come up with in the history of mankind.  It doesn’t matter.  I don’t want to write your story for you.  In a few select cases, for very close friends or people in the industry, I might be willing to try writing a story with you, but by god, I’m not going to make that journey on my own.

Why?

Because the idea is the easy part!

Yes, you heard me right, the idea is the easy part.  I know you’re skeptical.  You’ve read books based on stupid ideas, you’ve watched movies where the plot is so thin it would fall apart if you blew your nose on it.  There are plenty of terrible ideas that somehow come into the light of day.  Given.

But it’s still the easiest part of the process.

I’ve got plenty of ideas.  I could spend the rest of my life writing the books that are currently sitting in my mental queue.  Okay, maybe not the rest of my life, but well over a decade, trust me on this.

The hard part of telling a story isn’t the idea, it’s bringing the idea to life.  The reason writers go to conferences and read books and join critique groups and hire editors has nothing to do with fixing our ideas or making them better: It’s all about getting what’s in our head onto the page in such a way that somebody else can appreciate it!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that my relative knows that I’m a writer and wants to talk to me about the things that I’m interested in.  I’m happy that when he thinks about books and stories he thinks about me and wants to be included in that part of my life.

But I do rather wish that every time we talked he wasn’t trying to put a new project on my plate.