Ideas

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Readers ask, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Writers bemoan, “I have so many ideas.”  Or, “I’m writing my current story, but I’ve got this great idea for the next one and all I want to do is write it.”

I have learned to shut down the idea factory.

Writers are advised, “Carry a notebook. You never know when you will get an idea, and you don’t want to forget it.”

I don’t write them down for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve shut down the idea factory, and only open it when I sit down to write.
  2. If the idea is really worth anything, it would be worth remembering.

Ideas are everywhere. I have zero fear that I will lack for ideas. I do however fear that the sheer number of them will become debilitating. Or the shiny, fresh idea will distract me from the current work.

Keeping Heinlein’s Rule #2 in the front of my mind helps with this.  If I am adamant about finishing what I start, then my creative mind will shove those fresh ideas to the corner closet, and focus on keeping the current work shiny and fresh.

You Must Finish What You Start.

A simple tool to keep ideas from overwhelming the process.

Back to the reader’s question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

The answer is simple. I get them from the process. Writing regularly does that. I know if I sit down and write… If I sit down with a character in a setting… if I ground myself (and by extension the reader) in the setting with that character… I will never want for ideas. Story will happen.

As an example, have you ever had a dream that was so realistic that it felt you were living it, despite the fact that the people you encounter are people you have never met in real life, and despite the fact that the locales are places you have never been to?  Of course, you have. This is the reason a lot of writers keep a notebook and pen on the bedside table to write down their dreams when they awake. ( I don’t do that either. ) Do you ever wonder where those ideas come from?

Probably.

Have you ever found an answer?

Probably not.

I think the answer is simple. You put yourself in a position to create those dreams. Namely, you go to sleep… and all of those critical voices that would suppress the creativity in your waking hours are asleep, too.  And your creativity awakes like a toddler put down at the playground. And there you have it, a great dream. A great story.

And that is how it works, if I just sit down regularly to write. If I don’t worry about if it’s any good… If I don’t worry about having a working “idea”.  Just sit down, and follow my characters around. They’ll get in trouble…they’ll do unbelievable things… they’ll probably do things a lot more interesting than real life. It is not my job to pass judgement on those things or criticize or tell them about some really cool idea I have about what they should be doing.  My job is to record them, as if I were recording one of those dreams I mentioned above…like the writer who keeps the pad on the bedside table. Except, I’m doing it real time. I’m recording the dream at my keyboard as it is happening.

–TD


 

Both of my books are widely available, and I would love to have you as a reader.  Universal links:

Everything is Broken

and

North County Girl

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Bittersweet

Yesterday the author’s copies of North Country Girl arrived. I can report that it’s still pretty cool to hold a book in your hand with your name on the cover.

I struggled with getting the cover right at both Amazon and Ingram Spark this time. DIY can be a challenge. So, I think the emotion was more relief than elation this time. Still, pretty cool.

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But also, bittersweet. The first thing I did was look to the dedication, and it choked me up. I was approaching the climax* of North Country Girl, when my younger (by just over a year) brother unexpectedly passed in October. I still grieve his loss, every day. But those days after his death were debilitating. I couldn’t think straight, let alone write. I had a hard time talking on the phone, and my brother touched A LOT of people’s lives. So, there were many calls… most were answered with “I’ll need to get back to you.”  I haven’t come close to getting back to everyone. If you’re reading this, and you are one of those persons I hope you’ll accept my apology. I’m still not sure I’m ready to talk about it.

I also experienced writer’s block for the first time. Believe it or not, when your brain goes to mush, it affects your access to the creative magic.

I managed to break through the block several days later, and reached the end a couple of weeks later. It was miserable getting into the chair, but once there and the writing started it was a little cathartic. Of course, I was sure it was all crap… and I’m not sure it isn’t still. We are the worst judges of our own work after all.

It was our intention that Dennis would do the cover art for this book. We were supposed to have a call to go over the specifics on a Wednesday in October. He didn’t pick up. He was already gone.  I regret not asking him to do the art for Everything is Broken…because I was embarrassed by how little I could pay, and didn’t want to offend him. I don’t look back in regret on much, but I beat myself up over this. Even as I type this tears well up.

Yes, so, bittersweet. I feel like I can remember every keystroke of those last couple of thousand words.

RIP Dennis. You are loved.

–TD

*If you’ve read North Country Girl, I had just started the scene where the super-group of misfits convened at Stefanie Charles’ trailer.

You must put your story on the market

We’re back to the “simple”, no duh, universal truths of Heinlein’s rules. The thing about writing rules is that I don’t generally have a rules-following mindset. So, when someone says “show, don’t tell.” I’m like…okay, but…

Heinlein’s rules on the other hand? Four of the Five, I simply do not see how you break. The one that you CAN break, frankly, I think is the best writing advice I have ever received.

What about #4?

This is the one I struggle with the most by far. Let’s examine a little about how my process works.

  • Write the book. If you’ve heard of “cycling”, that’s pretty much what the process of writing my stories looks like. If you haven’t…in summary, I write until I get stuck. Take a short break. Jump back and read what I just wrote adding depth, correct a typo or two…but most importantly reading…by the time I have reached the white page, I have momentum and I plow forward until I get stuck. Repeat. I also do the jump back and read until the white page, when I start a new day’s writing.  Okay, that’s more than I wanted to say on the subject…
  • At the end, I turn on spell check. Make those fixes.
  • Hand the story over to my reader.
  • The next day after finishing one story I start the next. This is one of my self-imposed “rules”.
  • When the reader’s comments come back, I make the fixes I agree with. Generally, I agree with most of them, because she knows what I’m looking for and she does a good job at it. This doesn’t take much time, usually an hour or so.
  • Send to copy-editor. Continue writing the next story.
  • Fix copy-editor’s mark-ups. I’m not going to lie, these usually number in the 100s. But they are simple fixes. Almost all typos.
  • After I’ve done this fix, I format the interiors of ebook and paperback.
  • Create covers (honestly some of the covers stuff goes on throughout the entire process, but I have to have the interior format to be able to complete the paperback cover)
  • Submit to KDP and Ingram Spark for publication

I’m sure I’m missing something in there, but that’s pretty much it.

To follow Heinlein’s rule #4, I either submit to traditional publishers (or I guess agents, though it must land on an editor’s desk to follow the rule).  Or I self-publish.  The process above is for self-publishing.

What I dislike about this is that I spend far too much time in critical thinking in these steps after the Write the Book step. I enjoy the covers work, until I get to the getting Ingram Spark to accept my paperback cover portion of it. But, for the most part I hate spending that much time outside of the fun of creating.

And because of that there is a lag between each step, when I must drop the writing and address the “getting this shit ready for market” part of the process.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I don’t participate in the ritualistic chant of “Writing is Hard.” However, I will confess that I find Heinlein Rules #4 difficult.

All the above, speaks to process.

There is also the psychology of it. This is the point where you release it to the world of editors or readers. I think some writers struggle with this more than others. It took some courage for me the first time, but it’s gotten easier. I think seeing this Rule helps.  There’s no arguing the logic of it. You cannot sell what sits on your desk. As a result, I don’t think much of my issues with Heinlein’s #4 are psychological… I just don’t enjoy the process between writing and publishing.  So I procrastinate…

Here is the result of my adherence to Heinlein’s Rule #4:

Everything is Broken

and

North County Girl

 

–TD

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