You have to have ideas before you can have ideas

This is something I like to say when people ask me “Where do you get your ideas?”  It’s not only true, but it often gets a conversation started.  See, the thing is, having ideas is a habit you have to grow.  You may not think you have ideas for stories, but you do, all the time.  Either you don’t recognize them as ideas, or you shrug them off as not being worth pursuing, or you get just so far with them, and let them go.

  • You don’t recognize them as story ideas — Any time you think, “I wonder what would have happened if (blank).” that’s a story idea.  Trust me on this, it really is.  It may not be a good one, but your idle question holds the germ of a story.
  • You shrug them off — Stories don’t write themselves folks.  It’s all well and good to think “Eh, nothing much different would have happened if (blank).” but until you start to work with the idea, you won’t know for sure.  If you have an idea, work with it.  Write it down, make diagrams, ask yourself questions and do your damndest to answer them.
  • You only get so far and let go — Don’t be a defeatist  Seriously, if you’ve pursued it that far, keep at it.  “But it doesn’t seem to be working,” you say.  Or: “It turned out to be shitty so I gave up on it.”  Don’t be fucking lazy, sez I.  Hammer away at it, and if nothing at all comes of it, put it in a file and don’t look at it for six months or a year. You might be pleasantly surprised when you go back to it.  What’s changed?  The little writer in your brain has been working at it all along.  Surprise!  Or maybe you still think it’s crap, and that’s fine, but recognize the work you put into it and hang on to it.  These things can be cannibalized.

You see a theme here?  Having ideas is easy.  Recognizing them and doing the work is the hard part.  You’re going to have shitty ideas, but even those can ultimately yield some good things that can be used in other stories.

You have to have ideas before you can have ideas.  You see?  You have to work at making all this habitual.  I now have more ideas than I know what to do with.  Some of them include:

  • A gay love triangle set after WWI that begins with a mystery that comes out of the Russian Revolution, and ends in the aftermath of WWII.
  • A ghost story about Anastasia and Anna Anderson.
  • A huge, honking universe filled with magic and dragons, fairytales, parallel dimensions, and demon detectives.  There are a bunch of stories in this universe.
  • The story of a castrato who isn’t really a castrato. (Part of the magic universe above)
  • A time-travel romance set in Russia on the verge of revolution (This one is actually finished, but needs a lot of editing.)
  • My Scrooge stories which still need something more, but I can’t quite figure out what.
  • A bunch of other romances (eyeroll, don’t ask)
  • A novel about female friends.
  • A big old vampire universe that may never get written, but which is being cannibalized for the magic universe.
  • A serial killer thriller
  • The rewrite of White Rabbit
  • A novel about people becoming immortal and the research into why this has happened.

And there was another one I had in my head just as I began this list and, something I thought of this morning, and now it’s gone.  You see how fast this stuff comes and goes?  It’s crazy-making, and that means you have to be alert, you have to write things down, and you have to go after ideas with both hands and a net.  Eventually they’ll be everywhere and you really can pick and choose the ones you need to pursue.

  • Wait, I just remembered!  I want to write something about the events around the writing of Frankenstein.  I know it’s been done, but I want to do it.  I think I have something to say, or will have when I start poking at it.  I knew it was something historical.

The other thing I would tell you is this:


I cannot stress this enough.  Read everything including newspapers, and magazines, and labels, and birthday cards.  If you want to write, words are your medium, and all the world is in them.

This post is like the writers’ version of just do it.  But it isn’t just a habit, it’s a discipline, so yeah,

Just. Do. It.

3-Year-old reenacted the Shia LaBeouf's Just Do It Speech - Imgur.gif

And that’s about it.  I have to go write now.



2 thoughts on “You have to have ideas before you can have ideas

  1. Love this! What I find amazing with ideas and being a writer is that ANY idea you share with a friend or family member is, for me, funny or clever and something I should pursue every time. Never have I come across anyeone who has questioned an idea I’ve expressed to them or shown negativity towards them. That positivity helps immensely and yes some people might just be saying it out of politeness but generally when you say ‘I’m a writer and I’ve got this idea’ so many people root for you and that’s a very powerful feeling.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love it when a friend starts asking pointed questions. “So if X then Y or Z? Because it has to be on of those, doesn’t it?” and it forces me to think about what I want/need to do with an idea. So if you have sounding boards, you’re very fortunate.


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