Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Fricassee

So here's a Friday Question for you:  How do you find your stories?

I'm not a six-dozen-story-ideas-in-a-folder kind of gal.  In fact, sometimes I despair at my lack of an idea reservoir.  I know writers who, at any given time, have several germs of ideas swimming about in their heads, or a collection of loglines or beat sheets or light outlines for more stories than could possibly be written in a lifetime.

Occasionally, some of these writers will lament that they can't decide which story to work on next.

And I'm all...really?

Because the most I ever have is One Other Story in my head, in addition to whichever project I'm working on.  I'm a firm believer in always working ahead, so it's important to keep those ideas cooking, right?  Yet I am bereft of the kind of idea/plan pool that many writers seem to have.

Sometimes it makes me feel like less of a writer.

So I'm wondering how your stories are birthed, and how many you have in your queue at any given time.  Do your ideas burst forth like a series of fireworks, unbidden?  Or are you like me, with ideas that simmer and cook and slowly rise to the surface of the pot, one at a time?

Let's peek inside each others' brains a bit.  And, hey.  If I can find even one other writer whose brain percolates at the same, slug-slow rate as mine, I will be happy, indeed!


  1. I am lucky if I have two ideas a time. Does this mean I get to claim the crown of Least Creative Writer ever?


    But in all honesty, I don't mind this so much. Sometimes I wish I had as many ideas as some of my friends, but I seem to find it easier to commit to ideas than they do -- I guess because the idea isn't competing with any others, if it has problems, I just have to work them out.

    Still, I don't feel very much like the Gushing Font of Creativity we writers are supposed to be. I guess I'll have to settle for being a Mildly Creative Writing Mule.

  2. Sometimes, my ideas are a dime a dozen and sometimes I they are in such demand that if I even hear the word "write" I want to run and hide:)

    Right now, I have 5 WIP's and yesterday, such an awesome thought popped into my head while driving, i asked my daughter to text it to me so I wouldn't forget it!

    This means, I have 6, but two of them are only ideas I keep adding to and two are ones I am all but finished with, and the last two are just barely beyond the synopsis.

    I'm pretty busy right now:)

  3. I usually have a sizable number of story ideas floating around my head, but they're generally the mere germs of the idea, not nearly strong enough to work with. Then one of them will come to the forefront, with a new hook or development that makes it actually workable, and I poke it for a while until I can start writing. So ideas come to me pretty easily, but it takes a fair amount of time and work to use them to build a real story.

  4. I LOVE this question! (Mostly because I'm curious about how other writers process and create).
    When an idea strikes me, it is usually a product of my own perpetual internal questions. I am constantly asking, "what if?" and filtering the word around me through that question.
    —(On my way down the highway to work): "What if road kill didn't have to stay dead?"
    —(Watching airplanes with my kids): "What if one of history's greatest WWII aviators was actually a young woman in disguise?"
    —(On a rainy day): "What if the weather patterns were dependent upon the mood swings of a child?"
    Idea generation is never really an issue for me, it's building that simple idea into a rich and well-developed story that turns my brain inside out.
    But these three questions help get me going:
    "What?" —address the overall concept. What's the story about and what is it REALLY about?
    "So What?" —Why does it matter and what difference does it make, (to the characters and to the readers)?
    "Now What?" —What journey or change (of place/purpose/personhood) will the characters have to go through to bring the story arc to completion?
    Now if the actual WRITING of the story didn't take so long I'd be doing good! ;)

  5. I seem to get a few sparks of inspiration at a time, but that doesn't necessarily mean I can flesh them all out into stories. Right now I have 2 WIPs (+ a sequel to my finished MS), but I'm not sure that either will result in full novels.

  6. Like you, I generally have only one idea going at a time. But while I'm working on it, I feel my brain scanning the universe for another interesting idea.

    It usually comes to me about mid-first draft of my current story. You know, in that pesky slow spot that lurks in the middle of every one of my stories. That place where I'm a little stuck and don't quite know how to connect the first exciting part to the last exciting part.

    The new idea always seems so fresh and enticing, it's hard not to charge right into it. Over time, I've learned to simply write it down on a piece of paper stick it in a drawer and finish what I've started. Otherwise, I would have nothing but half finished stories even I don't want to read.

  7. HA! I'm lucky to have one idea at a time!! I think some writers like this might be extra critical of their ideas and of themselves, which can be a good thing. I don't know if how I write connects with how I read, but I rarely finish books I read. Lots of times I stop reading around page 50, though I have been known to drop a book at the first 5 pages (I literally got to the end of just ONE book this year). The reason - I got bored; I'm extra picky. And I think that's the same thing with my ideas. That also means that I could probably never write to a trend (which might not be a good idea anyway), because the chances of me caring about that story, being inspired enough to write it, would be next to nil. Anyway, this is one writer's take...take it or leave it :)

  8. That's the one thing in the writing pantheon I don't have trouble with--generating ideas. Now, if they could just spring fully formed out of my head a la Athena from Zeus's noggin, it would actually be worth something.

  9. I'm like you, I might have one other thing started to germinate while I'm embroiled in my current work. As for how those ideas come about, I blogged about it some time ago, but it's usually two or more things I've seen/read/experienced that do a slow simmer deep in my subconscious until it's ready, and then it just pops.

    Here's the post, if anyone's interested:

  10. My ideas tend to pop up when I'm not trying - and run screaming for the hills when I am.

    Most recently, a random comment from one of my friends gave me an entire character for my new book.

    We're discussing Toy Story and she says, "I always wanted my toys to come to life. Then I could have a little tiny person. And I could feed him corn."

    After my other friend and I stopped laughing, the first words out of my mouth were, "You know I'm putting that in my next book, right?"

    That one bizarre line expanded link-by-link into an entire character profile without me even trying. If only it were always that easy.

  11. I currently have four solid WIP ideas--you know, characters, loose plot, hastily jotted-down opening scene. Then I have a handful of really disjointed idea fragments tossing around upstairs that might or might not form up into something useful.

    My ideas tend to come in random flashes of scenes. Then I either sit and think on them hard to flesh them out into stories, or I just let them percolate for a year or two and they very slowly start to fill in almost on their own. I try to take notes.

    I've pretty much stopped paying attention to ideas that aren't related to the four I've got going. I'm such a SLOW writer that with just the four, I'm pretty set on fodder for the next couple of decades. :(

  12. For many years I had exactly one idea, and even that was pretty watery - I just kept going at it, starting in high school. I finished school, then college, then a masters, started work, got married, and one night my husband had one of those 'What if...' questions that made me go, yeah, that could be my second novel. I wrote it. It was awful. But then I had another idea, and wrote it. It was awful. Then I had a whole avalanche of ideas. I wrote one of them. It (caught on fire, fell over, then sank into the swamp)...was a bit better. Worked on a few more drafts. And the rest of the avalanche of ideas? They're all synopsisized in a file called 'Projects' in ANOTHER file called 'Back burner'. I write characters and scenes as they come to me, then try to return to the main project at hand. Because, you know, somewhere along the line I became the kind of writer who tries to work on 20 things at once.

  13. I get little snippets of ideas all the time, but if I don't make a note of them right away, they're gone as quickly as they came. Usually the ones worth working on stay with me - sometimes for years - before I start working on them. By then I have developed one or two characters fully before I've even started on the first word of the story.

  14. Oh, I have a lot of ideas in the pipeline... but some of them could definitely benefit from a bit more time to percolate, haha. Until I started my most recent WIP, I had six possible stories I was mulling over, and some kind of dealbreaking inherent story flaw with each of them. My current WIP just happened to be the one where I solved the problem first!

  15. I get a lot of ideas that never come to fruition. Most of these are based on people or events in my life. As to the ones I actually write, some may come from personal circumstance or it could just start with some hazy idea that pops into my mind, and I think, "Hey, I have to write that." My current WIP is a collection of both things- one of the characters and her situation is based on a woman I knew 20 years ago, but mainly the idea for the novel wormed itself into my brain, and I knew I had to write it.

  16. If you're looking for a little inspiration, I recommend hitting the bookstore. Just looking through the shelves and seeing all the great ideas other people have had usually jump starts my creativity.

  17. I get most of my ideas from Journaling and writing exercises. Many of my writing exercises turn into novels and shorts.

  18. I am definitely a slow-drip gal when it comes to the idea percolator. I'm at most one book ahead of my WIP while I'm writing. And that means I have an idea of the main character, the world they live in, and the inciting incident -- and not a lot else. I can't even work on edits in the morning on one book, and then new storyline in the afternoon on a second.

    Then again, before I ever started writing, I was never the kind of person who could read part of one book, and then pick up a second book, and then switch back and forth between them. One friend of mine is part way through no fewer than ten books at any given time. I have no idea how she keeps everything straight!

    Not that anything I write is all that great, but it reminds me of a quote from M*A*S*H:

    Charles says during surgery: "I do one thing at a time, I do it very well, and then I move on." I get that. Even if I don't do it "very well" yet myself. I'm working on it. :D

  19. I never get story ideas. I get characters who have trouble in some way or another, and then a bunch of weird images that don't seem to connect. So the trick for me is finding the story - and how all those seemingly disconnected images fit together.

    What keeps me from feeling that I might run out of characters is that I meet with a small group each week and we do writing prompts. Writing prompts are a sure-fire way to keep yourself in ideas :) It's also an awesome way to feel productive if your story has stalled.

  20. Ahh, the idea question! I feel like I'm somewhat in the middle of the two extremes. I tend to have more than two ideas percolating--it may be about five or six "big" ideas that have enough potential to work into a novel, in addition to whatever is my WIP. (Though right now four of those do have some sort of a draft, or even multiple drafts, that still need tweaking, further development, or even a full rewrite.)

    But they tend to come to me slowly, and I think a lot of them do brain-percolate even before I get to freewriting to flesh them out. I normally only do the freewriting when I'm ready to commit to fully developing them, otherwise I get too sidetracked, and my mantra right now is "finish this thing, and finish it well."

    As for where my ideas come from, I haven't recognized any patterns. Sometimes it's a matter of me thinking, "Wouldn't it be cool if a person could do X?" Other times it's (after watching a movie or reading a book) "Well yeah, but what happens after that?"

    I've also had ideas pop up from reading science and nature texts. Just a couple of days ago I came across a little article about zombie ants. I kid you not. Apparently there is a fungus that can infect the brains of ants and command them to go to certain places to die in order to spread the fungus. And some of these zombie ants will eat other ants. I read the article, became horrified at the pictures, and immediately thought "Now what if a fungus could do that to humans? If only zombie lit weren't on the downswing."

    Anyway, I guess overall, the best way to come up with ideas is to be curious about the world around you, from nature to space to people to the ways we wish things were (and the ways we're glad they're not). Curiosity breeds creativity.

  21. I only used to have just 1 idea in my head at a time, which was whatever I was writing at the time, then maybe the germ of a new book for my next project lurking in the background. But that's all changed now.

    I don't know how it is for other published authors and their editors, but my editor wants to talk about a story idea before the proposal stage. So it's like grace under pressure because I need to come up with something rather quickly. And if that one doesn't fly, I need another, and if that one doesn't fly, I need another, rinse and repeat. So I end up with a collection until my editor makes a choice. I still like all the other ideas, so I keep them for later. Maybe for another publisher. :P

  22. When I'm writing, which sadly hasn't been much in the last year as I suffered a great crisis of confidence, I have way too many ideas percolating at any given moment. WAY too many. It becomes quite hard to pin one down long enough to work on. They are a bit like butterflies that want to get away on me.

    I'd love to be a one story gal. Really I would. Maybe then I wouldn't suffer those crises.

  23. I am like a former commenter - the constant questioning of everything? If I'm reading a story thinking what if and why. I have many ideas but creating a finished product is a different story. How many writers have OCD? I can remember details and conversations that freak other people out.

  24. Thank you, thank you for writing this because I always feel less of a writer because I don't have a lot of ideas (who is a writer with no ideas?!) I am a one-pot at a time girl, myself, and the ideas that do come, come slowly. I'm starting to accept there is no shame in my game (in all accepts of writing the way I write, not just this one)

  25. I've gotta quote Lucas from Empire Records on this one: "Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear!" And that's where most of my ideas come from. Out of nowhere. If it starts to gain legs, I might start writing out scenes (I can't outline to save my life), but if not, I'll let it float away, never to pop up again. Which is fine. At the moment, I think I've got...five? Five ideas sitting around, stewing. I figure this is a good thing, because it's always possible that at one point I'll reach a plateau and won't have a new idea for a while. Having a store to draw from gives me a sense of security.

  26. I actually am one of those people who have dozens of stories in my head, but I don't have them all fleshed out. It's more like, it would be really interesting if.... Or, sometimes I see something funny on the street, and I think of a backstory for it.

    If I don't write down these little ideas when they come to me, they're gone forever. I have a Word document for things like this.

    I'm also the type that can't calm down my mind, so a lot of my ideas just come because my mind is almost always spinning thought after thought.

    I don't see this as a "better writer" indication, though.

  27. When I was a teenager I had no follow through with my writing because I would jump from one idea to the next. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn as a writer was to stick with one idea and to complete a single first draft.

    Now I am trying to learn my revision process and am having several very demanding ideas try to grab my attention. One started with a demanding character, or rather a voice I could not ignore. And the other started with a "what if" question I asked myself in the car.

    I already have a folder labelled "Idea Daycare" for the ideas that seem like they still need some germination. I also have another folder called "Idea Garden" for the ones that are demanding attention and development. That is on top of my revisions of my WIP.

  28. I have many, many ideas that keep bouncing around in my head, wanting attention, demanding attention, sparkling at me with that shiny new idea prospect when what I really need to do is focus on the current WIP (of which I have two) and finish it already. My problem is not ideas, my problem is finishing things.

  29. I have several ideas in my idea folder, in various states of commentary. Some are just a blurb I wrote on a post-it first, some are much more detailed.

    I have enough decent ideas for stories to keep me writing for years. Will I use all of them? Probably not.

    Sometimes I'll go months without an idea forming, and sometimes they come almost weekly. It's often songs that inspire an idea or reading something else. I actually had one spawn from a blog post from an agent I follow (that I read at 4am).

    All that said, I don't think it matters if you have one idea or a glut of them. It's what you do with them that counts. If you finish your ONE idea then move on to finish another ONE idea before I've finished anything from my long list of them, who's accomplished more? Personally, I would rather finish something from one good idea than have 1000 ideas just tormenting me.

  30. Sometimes ideas just leap out at me, from newspaper articles, movies, other books I'm reading. Something grabs me and says, 'what would happen if...'.

    Usually it takes a long time for those ideas to develop into anything I can use for a book, but every now and then, a story leaps into my brain fully formed and I just have to write it out.

    I usually keep mulling on any new idea until it's clarified in my head, and if it never does, that's one that gets discarded. If it's persistent and I can't stop thinking about it, that's the one that gets written.

  31. This is a really fun discussion. I'm firmly in the camp of Very Few Ideas. Only one or two ahead of my current WIP. My problem is that I'll daydream of story ideas, but am overly critical because the plot/characters don't scream with originality. I manage to squelch creativity even before hitting the first draft. Isn't that lovely?

    Thanks for sharing, everyone!

  32. I'm the idea gal. Need a new writing path to explore? Call me.

    Right now, I have about 6 loose plotlines in my file for sequels to the mystery that hasn't gone anywhere yet (all my fault), and this summer, out of the blue, I've gotten "hits from beyond" on a trio for an MG series. Ideas come to me all the time, but I have to play with them and explore before I write them down. And never in a neat outline, but in garbled paragraphs, which I somehow understand.

    I have no idea where the ideas come from. Am I more open to the universe? Do I take more showers than the rest of you? (Could be, because we know that shower connection is important!) It doesn't matter, because what matters is what a writer DOES with those ideas, and that's where I fail. I need someone to give me concrete deadlines, or I will waste away the precious time I should be taking advantage of.

    Although snuggling with my 21-year-old cat is not wasted time, but it does play havoc with my spelling (I have to say that, as he's on my lap right now helping me type!)My new computer isn't helping any, either- major learning curve on the new software!

    For the idea-phobic, try meditation, a relaxing walk, more hot showers(!) and ask for ideas. Yes, look out at the world and ASK! Then keep your mind open and question everything, as Beth suggested.

    We're all wired differently, and that doesn't make any of us better writers than the others. It'd be a boring world if we were all the same. What would there be to write about?

    And seriously- combine Beth's roadkill that comes back to life with Amanda's zombie ants, and we have the makings of an excellent low-budget screamer movie!

  33. Yes, I'm the same way. I only have one story idea in my head at the moment (since writing my last novel 3 years ago). Usually, something in my life sparks an idea, but they are usually very intricate. It takes a long time to develop these stories.

    As for my mom, she has stories logged away in her mind and cannot choose which one to write next. I'm very proud of her, but also wish that I could have that much talent at coming up with new ideas!

    All my best,

  34. Sorry, Authoress, I'm one of the ones who has to have a file to keep all the snippets of ideas that float through my consciousness and the more I write, the more ideas come. Some say it is just training the brain, (teaching the brain to cast a wide net and ask questions that lead to ideas) but sometimes I wish my brain would heed me as well as my dog who stays in one place when I tell her to. With 6+ WIPs (including in 3 editing stages), I'm rarely at a loss for something to write. The hardest part is picking which one to work on!

  35. I had to nurture a couple of novel ideas along for years until I could take the time to write them. In the mean time, I switched to short stories and kid's stories. A few times, what I set out to write morphs into something else entirely (ie from thriller/disaster to comedy screenplay.) Go figure.
    I think what's key is that I can't write it if I'm not excited about it.
    There is some magic in putting pen to paper. Once I start, the words flow. I think it's because the ideas have had so much time to percolate.
    One last thought. I didn't have as much to say when I was younger, but now . . . .

  36. I definitely have a big folder full of ideas. Some of them are nothing more than a line of a story or quote that sparked my interest and not all of them are the stuff of novels. I find my ideas everywhere, but they usually come to me in the middle of the night when I can't sleep.

    I also like to look at agent wish lists. By the time I have it written and ready to query, they probably won't want it anymore. However, some of these have sparked similar ideas that get my writing fingers itchy.

  37. I agree with MaggieMay- the ideas have grown with age (my age, not the idea's). I needed life experience to bring my ideas to fruition. I admire people who know at an early age what they want to be, but my "Become a novelist" was always sandwiched between "Movie Star" and "Spy".

    Or was that "Cowboy" and "Tap Dancer"...

  38. You are not alone! I wish I was more like those writers who carry a notebook around everywhere to jot down ideas. My mind is always too full of stuff from the day, and the latest thoughts about my WIP.

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  40. I'm with you on this, Authoress. I have a friend that spews out good ideas (I mean really good ideas!) on a regular basis, but I'm still working on the four ideas I had as a teenager. I won't even tell you how long ago that was. For a while I despaired my adult brain could come up with another story idea that I could really get excited about. I did finally get a couple more ideas, but i had to purposefully dig for them and actively stew on them by forcing myself to come up with 10 loglines. It's amazing how ideas start bubbling and churning when you put the heat on! I also learned to first start with things I'm passionate already. Like fairytale-retellings and mythical creatures. Another great idea-generator is to put two people together in a very vague story idea, and then throw a third person into the mix to shake things up.

  41. It used to be that I could have dozens of ideas running around in my head at any time. However, I learned fairly early on in my writing education that this no way to get work done. Now I tend to completely ignore any idea that's not the current book. If I have a really great idea halfway through a draft, I jot it down and store it away on my computer. That will be the next novel. Sometimes I don't manage to meet this ideal, but I try not to work on more than one draft a time. I already have a poor attention span, and I don't need to make it worse. I also tend to be critical of my ideas, and a lot of them don't make muster. Sometimes one that I've dismissed refuses to go away, and I end up writing it anyway, but the idea really has to stick with me for that to happen.

  42. I'm a slug. Be happy.

  43. I'm with YOU, girl! I fully commit to one or two projects before startin' another! Nice to know I'm not the only one who "rolls" this way ( : I have a lot of writer friends who seem to be pooping out stories like rainbow skittles and I'm like... [wimpers]... So... out.... of... my... league!! Haha ( : Slow and steady wins the race, though, right?!

  44. Loved this post! And all the comments! It's nice to know that I'm not alone, since I am definitely a one-idea-at-a-time kind of girl. And like you Authoress, sometimes this does make me feel like less of a writer...

    But I think one of the many beautiful things about writing, is that there are many different ways of doing it.

    When I get an idea for a story it usually just comes out of nowhere, and I have to write it. Until I can get the entire story written, it's all I can think about. It's kind of like I'm in love with my story and no other ideas are of any interest to me. I do have a folder on my computer for story ideas, but it is pretty empty. So I just trust that when I finish one story the next will come :)

  45. Having one idea at a time or lots bouncing around in your head doesn't make a difference in writing. Some of friends concentrate on one idea, and others bounce.

    I'm kind of a bouncer, but when I'm writing one story, it's hard for me to go between ideas. I get other ideas when I'm writing, make notes and file them away, but it's hard for me to write more than one story at a time.

    I get my ideas from all other place, gardening, walking my dog. They blow in and I try to grab on. Then they swirl around in my head picking up speed when I'm ready for them.

  46. This made me happy, my ideas come so slowly and I do sometimes feel maybe I'm not a real writer because of it. So it's nice to other people aren't brimming with ideas too. I also wrote slowly though, so maybe my ideas come to suit my writing speed - otherwise my head would explode :)

  47. I'm afraid I'm of the first variety. I have dozens of stories and ideas sitting in folders, waiting for me. But in a way it's equally frustrating because it's hard to decide not only which one to work on but more importantly, which one has the potential to actually be completed.

  48. My current WIP is based on an obscure fairy tale that BUGGED me for years. I hated the Hero, and the Heroine seemed so spineless. So...I'm writing my own version.

    And my WIP impatiently waiting in the wings is based on a song that didn't make any sense to me once I started thinking about it. So I had to come up with a story to explain the weird lyrics. (When I read the YA book "Impossible" it reminded me of this.)

    So, my creative store is more like an oyster's desire to rid itself of an irritation. Maybe some pearls will come from it?

  49. Sorry, Authoress, but I've got a burgeoning file folder of ideas like Stephanie. I also constantly ask myself, "What if?" like Beth Hautala.

    Mostly, I'm a people-watcher and plot ideas typically germinate from kooky characters.

    Like the guy I passed tonight walking alongside a dark, desolate country road. His arms were pinned against his sides and what appeared to be a walking stick had been stretched taut between his wrists. The wrists were tethered to the stick! He was also carrying two green bags in his hands which were obviously heavy, as his shoulders slumped against the strain. What the hell?! Religious martyr trying to eradicate the Black Death?

    I wanted to stop and interview him. There must be a story here! Then again, I live in farm country and don't carry mace.

  50. What a fun post and discussion!

    I can relate to something in almost every comment.

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