Monday, April 15, 2013

Where Ideas Are Born

What would be the most common question I receive as a writer?

No, it's not, "I have this great idea for a book, if you'd help me finish it I could share some of my royalties with you." That is the most common, but it usually comes as a statement not a question. So that doesn't count, even when paired up with, "I have this book I've been working on for 'xxx' decades, would you mind looking it over?" This, while it is an interrogative, has its total diluted by the statement form of the same thought.

No, the most common question I receive is the dreaded, "Where do you get your ideas?" This is especially prevalent whenever I release a new book. In the next week or so, book #2 of my contemporary Angelo's Hearth series will be out. (#1 Where Dreams Are Born [note the post title above], #2 Where Dreams Reside). So, right now, I'm hearing this question a lot.

Now, I've heard some great answers to that one. "I keep them in the basement." and "The cookie jar." are two of my personal favorites. The later was one night at a conference bar and nearly had me snorting my drink through my nose.

I just had a great reminder of where ideas actually come from because I spent the last week in a rather intense writing workshop where we had to write two short stories and an incredible number of story-based short exercises. And an odd thing happened, well, a couple of odd things.

First, I was astonished, as always, at the amazing variety of ideas that exploded forth from a dozen pro writers. Even when given a very narrow and specific prompt, a whirlwind of variety ensued. I have to admit, I've given that assignment myself a time or two when teaching, but the results never cease to amaze me.

Second, I find that ideas, especially when rushed by a heavy workshop environment, simply don't have time to dodge and prevaricate and dance away. Three scene openings due tomorrow on top of class and short story writing? No time to think! Just write and the ideas appear. Even when the prompt was loose, not having time to think is an awesome motivator. Wait a moment... Something there... What if I just stopped thinking when I wrote normally too? :) It took me a while to learn that one. As pros know, "Just writing" is the best idea generating power on the planet.

Third, I always think in about novels as series rarely just a single book (another reason I love writing romance--it's just designed for that kind of thinking), but that doesn't mean that's where the ideas come from. Where my latest came from was in this class, I wrote a quick little short story. The instructor, who knows me well, just shook his head sadly after reading it. "You know what you've done, don't you?" Just from the question I knew. I'd "just written" the main characters and world-building for a five-book romantic fantasy series in a 3,100-word short story.

Crap! I don't have time for that idea. I have three other series ahead of it, two running through Sourcebooks plus my Angelo's Hearth contemporaries... and that's only under my romance pen name, never mind the two fantasy series coming under Matthew Lieber Buchman.

People are always asking me where ideas come from. I think I found a new response, "Can you please tell me how to get rid of them?"

Would love to hear some of your favorite answers to the dreaded question.


  1. I think you should look straight at those folks and announce in a monotone: East Podunk, New Jersey. Then walk away. (You're probably too polite to do that, though!)

  2. My answer would be the voices in my head tell me what to write and I must obey.

  3. They ambush me in dark alleys. Or, more seriously, i feel the same. Where do they not come from? Too many ideas, not enough time to write...