The Idea File

I used to hear writers complain about the people who ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve been asked that, but not so much any more. Maybe it’s because the people I associate with, even if they aren’t writers, already know a version of the real answer. It’s not the snide put-off: There’s a shop in Poughkeepsie where, for ten dollars, you’ll get a list of five good story ideas, or its variations.

The real answers are different for each writer, but many of them are something like: It’s not where do I find them, it’s choosing the best one at the moment, out of all of those in my head. It’s recognizing a good idea when it comes along, because of the way it resonates, the way it won’t leave me alone, not because it’s clever.

I knew someone at college who had a card file of ideas. He had five of those green library boxes with drawers, which could each hold five hundred cards. I don’t see many of those any more either. He was so proud of them. Every time he got a story idea, he wrote it down on a card, with a key word at the top, and filed it away.

I don’t know how many idea cards he actually had, surely not as many as twenty five hundred. But he just hadn’t gotten around to actually writing a story yet. Too many ideas, not enough story.

Ideas come to me all the time. Most of them I forget about at once. Every so often, an idea just won’t go away. That one I write down so I can stop thinking about it. I have a few of those somewhere. But sometimes, an idea will grab me so hard, that I have to actually sit down and start developing the story right then, even if I’m already working on one. That happens only once every couple-three years or so. 

I am working on three books at the moment, code named The Empty House, Star Kings, and Soul Stone. When I run out of steam on one of them, I switch to another. I’m making progress on all three. 

Who needs another idea when you’re writing three novels simultaneously? I have all I can deal with at the moment.