I recently read Creativity Inc. It is basically a biography of Pixar as told from the point of view of its president, Ed Catmull. In it he repeatedly makes the point that ideas are a dime a dozen and people are the thing that make those ideas great. Back when I was starting out down this writing road I read something similar and did not believe it for a second. Ideas had to be the thing bringing the magic into storytelling. But as I’ve learned since then ideas really are a dime a dozen. As I write this I have enough ideas for stories to write over the next ten years or more and new ones keep coming every day. Eventually I suspect I’ll have more ideas than I could possibly finish in one lifetime.
And this is a theme I hear from other writers as well. My friends, who are just starting out as well as the ones who are established, all get those uncomfortable propositions. “I have this great idea for a book. What do you say, I tell you the idea, you write it and we split the money 50-50?” What do you say to that? Most people seem to think, as I did, that there’s something magical in ideas when the truth is, they really are disposable.
Of course everyone comes by their ideas in different ways but I thought I’d share my process for the novel I’m currently working on.
Back in 2009 when I was on sick leave due to slight burnout, I remembered how much much I used to love writing. So I thought about who I wanted to write about. The first person who came to mind was basically someone who’s more or less confused and lost and out of control because that was exactly what I was feeling at the time. And because I’m a murderous little bitch, I wanted her to kill someone. A boyfriend, maybe? I thought about who I would go for help if I killed someone and my sister came immediately to mind. It was supposed to be a contemporary drama but it soon turned into a ghost story and veered instantly out of control. I moved on to other projects while I let that one simmer. Then I came across this article on io9: Why Adding “In Space” to Any Concept Really Does Make It Better. Over time that combined with the old idea about the two sisters trying to get rid of a nightmare of an ex-boyfriend. And everyone loves space pirates. Or at least I do. I kept playing around with the idea and when I finally successfully finished my first novel in a long time, I knew it was time to get back to building the novel. Research into historical pirates brought me more ideas and so on.