Friday, June 3, 2016

From Thin Air - The Curse of Ideas


It’s a rather odd number, no?
Well, it’s the number of novel/novella sized ideas I’ve had since 2012.

That's all the good ideas, I might add. The ones I’d be willing to tell you about. One of them is old enough that I wouldn’t let you read the draft of it I have, but the rest… why not?

Thing is… I’ve only finished six of them.
Yup. Six ideas out of thirty-one in four years.
By that pace (and I doubt I’ll be able to keep up said pace while I’m in college and then out in the real world), I’ll be finished with those thirty-one ideas in 2037.
Let me say that again. I’ll finish those ideas in Two thousand thirty-seven. I’ll be close to forty years old.

That’s a little scary.

I know a lot of writers who have a similar or far, far greater number of ideas. They have big plans for enough books to fill a library. Some of them write faster than me (because of time or what, I’m not sure), others slower. Regardless, they’ll be writing those ideas forever.

Unfortunately, there is no “finish line” when it comes to ideas. This time last year I only had twenty-seven ideas. In the last twelve months, I’ve conceived and toyed with another four and added them to my list of “books to write”. Will it ever end?

It’s a curse.

The Source of Ideas

Where do you get your ideas?
I’ve had so many people ask me this over the last few years. It’s kind of crazy actually, how many people don’t understand where I get all of these novel ideas. If I went up to a friend of mine and said “I have thirty-one novels I want to write”, they’d give me an incredulous look and say:
“Where do you get all these ideas?”

The average non-writer is mystified by the idea. Many of them are overwhelmed by the idea of writing one book, much less another thirty.
I’m not saying this to make the non-writers feel bad, not at all. It’s a gift, just like a lot of other talents.
I, for instance, can’t write poetry very well. I’ve maybe written… eight in the last year and that’s about it. Don’t ask me why, but I just… can’t.
Sure, the eight I’ve written aren’t awful by any means, but they’re certainly not brilliant. I’m critical enough of everything to realize that.
You know what?
It’s okay.

I don’t have to be good at poetry, because I’m good at writing novels. Some of my friends are good at music (something I’m not), others at painting (which I’m definitely not good at), others at sports (how), or any number of other things.

It’s okay to not get where novelists get their novel ideas.

Heh… that was sort of a pun.

Here’s the question for the writers: where do you get your ideas? There are a million places you can find them: story prompts on pinterest, mashing together a pair of TV series and a graphic novel you once read, basing a work of fiction on a true story, or even just looking up at the clouds and wondering “what if we could live up there?”

And me?
Well, I don’t really do pinterest, and I generally avoid using other stories as inspiration (it’s too easy to then create clichés and/or copy their plot too much), and I don’t really look to true stories and consider turning them into a work of fiction. Not my cup of tea.

Which leaves us with the last category. I find my ideas through wonder.

The Wonder of Ideas

Each way to find ideas is valid. There’s more than one because there’s more than way we can think; none of them are worse than others.

I’m among those of us who look at something (or even nothing) and wonder “what if”?
What if we lived among the clouds?
What if trees could talk and elves existed?
What if darkness won and we cowered below the weight of it?
What if a camera could think?

I’ve written (or at least considered) each of those four ideas. One became a story I let go because it felt too cliché (the first). Another became a story I want to write someday, but I’m putting it aside until later.
The third grew and expanded and morphed into something completely different, something so large it now spans a thirteen book series that I’ll finish… someday.
And the fourth became a short story I hope to share with you someday soon.

Wonder is powerful. When our minds begin to churn out ideas that come forth as questions, our curiosity wakes up and searches for an answer.
We all wonder at some point in our lives. Many of us do it for a living. Architects wonder: “what if I built a building this way?” while accountants wonder “what if these numbers don’t add up?” and teacher wonder “what if I could teach these kids better?”
As writers, our wonder can become rather abstract. I mean… wondering “what if trees could talk” is pretty far up there on the abstract scale.

What if emotions could be represented as little people that controlled your brain (Inside Out)?
What if an old man made his house fly away using a bunch of balloons (Up)?
What if we rescued that soldier (Saving Private Ryan)?
What if a man was left on mars (The Martian)?
What if a hobbit found a ring (The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings)?

I love to wonder, to solve problems and answer questions.

How do you find your ideas? Maybe you look to true stories (AKA every sports movie ever), or to pinterest (there are so many prompts out there, man), or even to combining other stories.

When your friends ask you, how do you answer?

The Curse of Ideas

I said earlier that the countless number of ideas that we get is a curse. How?
It never stops.

We will never be able to write every story we ever think of. Truth is, there’s not enough time. Never enough time. We’ll churn out story after story, maybe even do it for a living.
Not enough time.
An author might sit at their desk ten or fourteen hours a day and do nothing but write and send finished novel after finished novel to the publishers.
Not enough time.
I’ll finish my thirty-one ideas, only to find I amassed another sixty-two without realizing it.
Not enough time.
You’ll write your story, write the sequel and the prequel and your own fanfiction and realize… you want to write more.
Not enough time.
Soon the younger writers will grow up. Maybe they’ll find different jobs and just write as a hobby. They still have all those ideas they want to write.
Not enough time.
The older writers will accept jobs teaching at universities, sharing their love of fiction with the next generation. They’ll become publishers and editors and fathers and mothers and life will go on.
Not enough time.

Ideas are a blessing. Without them, inspiration would be meaningless. We’d never wonder, never look to the skies. We’d be afraid of curiosity and our minds would be so… dull.
But they’re a curse, too. We’ll never be able to fulfill every idea.

But you know what?
That’s okay.

Each story we finished is worth it. Every time someone finishes an idea, it’s worth celebrating over and enjoying.

You did it.
One down… a million to go.

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  1. I like this post because it warns, encourages, inspires, and explains, all in one thing.
    Also it tastes a lot like Ecclesiastes which is one of my favorite books. It can get a little depressing at times, but it ends with the high note of 'that's okay' which is always a good place to end.

    1. o.o
      I'm honored by you're saying that it tastes like Ecclesiastes, I love that book. XD

  2. This is true. This is so true. Thank you.