I’ve got an idea…!

A few nights ago, Andy Miller (who corrals Northern Kentucky University’s Creative Writing Program) and I were giving a presentation to the Kenton County Library’s writer’s group and the public on “Marketing Short & Long Fiction.” They’d set up for thirty attendees; we ended up with an overflow crowd of over fifty.

Before the presentation, while they were bringing in more chairs, a very friendly older gentleman came up to Andy and me and handed us each an envelope, telling us to read it at our leisure. When I finally remembered it the next day, the letter turned out to be what I’d expected: in essence, in ungrammatical and poorly-proofed prose that wasn’t set up in any particular format, he asked if either of us would be interested in ‘collaborating’ with him because he had this great idea for a novel, and if we’d only write the book and sell it with our connections, we could have half the wealth…

The assumption our gentleman made I find to be a common one: that coming up with an idea is the hard part of writing, and actually writing it is the easy part. I’ve been approached at least a dozen times at cons I’ve attended with a variation on “Look, I’ve got this great idea for a novel, and if you’d only write it…” At most cons, when a new writer comes up to me to ask a question, the most common one is a variation on “Where do you get your ideas?” — which again hints at a general assumption that finding story ideas is the Hard Part.

I don’t understand. I think ideas are the easy part. My problem isn’t a lack of ideas; my problem is a lack of time in which to write them all down properly. Ideas are everywhere: they’re in the news stories you read about or hear; they’re in the strangers you see walking down the street (maybe the couple over there having an argument, which starts me imagining what the argument is about and what precipitated it and what’s going to happen next); they’re in the strange sights you see (like the yard I passed that had small Easter Island heads dotting the grass); they’re in the stories people have to tell you (listen to your older relatives; they all have wonderful stories you can adapt); they’re in always asking yourself “what if…” or “I wonder what happened next…?” or “Where’s the story in this…?” with things you read; they’re in looking into yourself and finding what you feel passionate about one way or another, and designing a world and a situation and characters that illustrate that theme…

Ideas are thick on the ground and float in the air around us.

At least it seems so to me. What about you? So where do you get those crazy ideas?

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  1. 1. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Heh. Just at the moment plot organization is the hard part. But I’m with you. And when you see Andy, tell him hi for me. It’s been forever and tell him I want my Xmas Feghoot. Please. Pretty please.


  2. 2. Steve Leigh

    I’ll tell him — in fact, I’ll do better than that and point him here!


  3. 3. Bran fan

    Even agents think that ideas are the hard part, which just boggles my mind. Agents actually brag on their own blogs about “helping” their authors by brainstorming ideas with them. My agent tries to do that to me too. I just smile and nod and then go write my own stuff.

    What is wrong with these people?

    Question: When you’re at a con, and some nice fan says “I’ve got an idea for you,” how do you handle it? You don’t want to make fanboy angry but you want him to understand that you’ve got plenty of ideas of your own, thanks.

  4. 4. Steve Leigh

    My answer is generally a variation on “I’m sorry, but I can’t listen to your idea since I really don’t have time to write anything other than what I’m writing right now.” If that doesn’t stop them and they still want to tell me the idea, I’ll stop them and say something along the lines of “I really can’t listen. There’s the legal liability if one day down the road I would write something vaguely similar. I’m sure it’s a fantastic idea — but you should sit down and try to write it up yourself. That’s the best thing you can do.”

    If they STILL don’t stop, well, then I’ll have to risk insulting the person and walk away.

  5. 5. Kerryn

    This question always baffles me. Like you I have at least a dozen ideas sitting around waiting to be worked on. Part of the reason I write is because I get these ideas. I don’t think I’d want to write if I didn’t have ideas.

    Like you say, ideas are all around us just waiting for us to ask the question that will spark our imagination and fly us off down a path yet to be travelled.

  6. 6. Lisa

    At any given time I have 100 ideas on post-it notes, the back of grocery bags, scraps of paper, and of course, journals. Ideas are definitely not the hold-up here.

    I get most of my ideas from the people around me. I’m the Observer.

    Where are the Easter Island heads?

  7. 7. Stephen Leigh

    The Easter Island heads are long gone — I saw them once several years back, then they vanished. (There’s probably a story there, too!)

Author Information

Stephen Leigh

Stephen Leigh (aka S.L. Farrell) is a Cincinnati author with 25 novels and several dozen short stories published. Booklist called his Cloudmages trilogy "Good enough to cast in gold." He teaches creative writing at Northern Kentucky University, and is a frequent speaker to writers groups. Visit site.



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