It’s been a while. I know. Forgive me. Things got pretty real in the beginning of 2016.
So what’s happened? Two things, mainly.
- I completed my R&R for Space Academy Rejects, which includes a completely new second half and tons of fantastic revisions to the front. I looove it. It was brain-bendingly difficult, but I’m thrilled with the final product, and I hope my beta readers are enjoying it right now!
- A lot of stuff went down in the city where I work. Public libraries are part of local government, so whenever a city has major financial issues, its public libraries suffer. We’re talking possible bankruptcy, state takeover, layoffs, the whole nine. Fun times.
So, y’know. I’ve been a bit off the grid. But I return!
The big topic on my brain lately is book ideas. After each book I finish, I have a major panic moment where I feel like I’ll never have another good book idea ever again. It inevitably passes and I fall in love with another project, but it doesn’t make the fear any less REAL each time. It’s like:
I’m coming off another such crisis right now and am beyond thrilled to be outlining a new YA space opera with a main character I adore. But the question that gets asked of every writer at some point is: where do your ideas come from?
For me, there are two stages: Seeds and sprouts.
(and I hope you’ll forgive the cheesy metaphor, which I’m about to beat like a bad cliche)
I have a whole document full of unspecific ideas that can come from anywhere at any time. Concepts I think are cool, bits of dialogue in need of the right character to say them, worldbuilding details that need a plot to go along, and other tidbits. Some are more fully-formed than others. These are my seeds: little story bits that are fully of potential, but need the right catalyst to get them growing.
But what’s the catalyst? What provides the water and sunshine for the seeds? (What will stop this awful metaphor from continuing?) That’s where my own media consumption habits come into play. When I’m having an awful time getting a new book idea going, it’s almost always because I’ve been neglecting reading, TV watching, and video game playing in favor of 100% focus on my writing and critiquing responsibilities. For those little concepts to turn into real, feasible story ideas, they have to collide with something I’m experiencing in media.
For Space Academy Rejects, the seed was utterly generic: some kind of space academy thing, a wacky sense of humor, and the whole found family crew concept common to sci-fi like Joss Whedon’s Firefly. That’s nothing. There’s nothing to go on there. No plot, no conflict, no character. That seed planted itself in my brain in mid/late 2013 and lay dormant for over a year.
Then I saw Guardians of the Galaxy in the theater in August 2014, and something about the sense of humor in that movie jumpstarted the voice of my main character, Nax. Suddenly I could hear him so clearly, hear his humor and self-deprecation, and in September 2014 I vomited the first chapter onto the page in one go. I toyed with it, thought about changing tenses out of fear of writing first person/present tense, decided to stick with it, wrote another three chapters, then added 50k words to finish the novel in November 2014 for NaNoWriMo. I haven’t written all that many books yet, but each time, it’s worked the same way: an idea seed lies in wait until it meets the right catalyst, then sprouts.
Any time you plant seeds, there will always be some that don’t sprout. Some cool ideas will only ever be cool ideas. And that’s fine. Maybe they didn’t meet the right catalyst, or maybe there was something wrong with the seed to begin with. Maybe they’re still waiting for the right reaction. BUT. So long as you keep planting seeds and watering them, something will eventually grow. Keep that list of cool ideas and engage with lots of media. A new idea will take root soon enough.
(Hear that, self? STOP PANICKING.)
How do you come up with new story ideas?