The most common question writers get asked is, ‘where do your ideas come from?’ If you’re anything like me, that question isn’t really that relevant. Ideas arrive, come and go, depending on how receptive I’m feeling or (usually) how relaxed and at-one-with-the-world I am.
The far more pertinent question would be, ‘how did you decide it was worth spending all that time on this idea?’ Because writing, editing and drafting (over and over) takes a lot of time. Sometimes short stories and flash fiction have appeal because well, they’re short. But less words doesn’t mean less work. In fact, those words need to work even harder because there are so few of them.
In the words of my ex-students, writing is LONG. So you need to pick the best idea to work on!
Once you start work on a story, big or small, it’s going to take up a massive portion of your life. I came back to my first book I don’t know how many times over the last six years. A tweak here, a character modification there. I dread to think how many weeks and months have been dedicated to it. At least now I know it will be published! (SRL publishing, out in early 2022).
Having just finished a second draft of another book, I know exactly how long that took. Two hours(ish) a day, four days a week, for around sixteen weeks. That’s 128 hours. Five entire days (and nights) of nothing but writing.
With that in mind, I came up with ‘The Ideas Tester.’ It’s basically a list of ways I can pull and stretch an idea around. See if I’m bursting with ideas about where it might go, what might happen, or if I run out of ways of developing it. Here’s the outline, for both character and situation based ideas:
One of the most important is the last one. While you might have an idea that is interesting and you have loads of ideas for, maybe you’re just not that thrilled about it. I have pages and pages of research and planning for a book that I’ve started writing on three different occasions. Each time I got around 30,000 words in and found I just didn’t care that much about it. Heartbreaking to leave it languishing, but probably better in the long run.
I hope that you find this useful, and do let me know if you’ve got your own techniques for filtering and choosing your ideas before embarking on Something Big.
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