I’ve been consistently asked two questions over the years. 1) Where do you get your ideas and 2) how do you organize your books. Let’s deal with the first in this post.
Where Do I Get My ideas?
I could give you a mystical answer – something like…
- I wander up on a mountain top and they just come to me.
- Or, on stormy nights when the lightning is flashing, I fly kites.
Or, I could give you the truth.
I have a habit of starting every morning with a cup (or three) of good coffee and a notebook. I swing my socked feet up onto my desk, make sure the mug and pot are close, and open up a notebook to write whatever happens to be on the top of my mind.
I note there’s always garbage no matter what anybody else tells you.
But, after I’ve cleaned out the mind-garbage
The truth is simple. I ask one question, and I ask it regularly.
That’s it. I ask “What if?” and answer the question in an unedited way. And after that first question, I do a followup series around some of the ideas. The crazier the better. Here’s an example from one of my notes a month or so ago.
- What if Butterflies were predators
- What if Elephants could fly
- What if Butterflies attack elephants and they have aerial battles
- What if Fairies were real (What? They’re not?)
- What if Fairies train butterflies to bring home dinner.
Rules? What rules?
I don’t make up the rules. I don’t censor and I can tell you I get some really, really weird ideas that never make it past the “What were you thinking?” stage. But I don’t care. I don’t share them. I simply write them.
I have a rule that I have to get ten answers every time I do the exercise. No more and no less. I try to do the exercise every day but when I’m in the middle of a book series (like I am now, I tend to slack off the “every day” rule.)
How many of these see a word processor?
Not many. Maybe one in 100? Maybe less or more but I really don’t count.
The current project about Merlin got started because I asked the silly question, “What if fairies are real?” (Well, duh. Of course they’re real. But what if other people knew that too? And what if fairies and humans disagreed about how the world should be run? What if they really disagreed?)
It’s that simple and it’s that tough.
There’s no censoring allowed.
The stranger the idea, the better. These notebooks are never seen by anybody else.
If I can’t tell myself about the strange ideas that run through my brain, who could I tell?
I review all notebooks when they’re filled up. Copy the good ideas into a new one – that helps me remember them – and then pitch the old notebook into the compost bin. At the end of that new notebook, I repeat the process of copying and adding to a new notebook. It’s surprising how many of the previously copied story-ideas don’t make it into three successive notebooks but disappear into the compost pile with the rest of the organic matter. (One should always treat ideas as valuable – and being recycled to go out and feed flowers is a mark of respect rather than being simply tossed into the useless garbage bin to molder in a dump somewhere.)
And that’s how I get my ideas.