Ideas: Throwing Out vs. Digging Deep

Ideas are work.

More than once I have started down the path of a story idea and come up against major obstacles. “Ugh, that’s too trope-y,” or “No, that reminds me too much of [other book].” And you know what it’s tempting to do when you hit a big picture snag like that? Write the whole idea off. Because, who wants to waste time developing something problematic at its very foundation?

But here’s the thing.

“Obstacles” can be gotten round. “Problems” can be solved. X has already been done before? Big whoop. What’s new? (Certainly not the grievance that it’s all been done before.) Y is a hackneyed cliché that you’ll eat paste and die before subscribing to? Clichés are as old as time raised your ancestors, but they still managed to invent things. So do we.

My point is this: when you recognize a problem with an idea, that is not just cause for casting the idea away. That is cause for putting the problem under your microscope, studying it, and accepting it as your first creative challenge.

If the core of your idea, if the thing that first sparked it is original and raw and excites you, it is worth breaking rocks for.

What is the spark/heart/core of your idea? The spark is often the first thing about the idea that came to you. It could be a concept, a scene, a phrase, a spoken line. It is the thing from which everything else unfolds. It is the one essential, non-negotiable bone of your story (And here is what has been a recent revelation for me: Especially in the planning stages, most of your story is negotiable). If you can isolate the spark, you can carry it through different permutations until you find the pieces it fits with.

That’s not to say you mightn’t need to put an idea down for a while and let it sit, get some distance and perspective—but if you have your spark, and you can pinpoint your concerns—even the big picture ones—you can creative your way around them. Give them a twist. Come up with something else. Try new pieces on, cast old ones away or rearrange them.

But if the spark of your story grabs you, for fiction’s sake, don’t throw it out!

Dig deeper.


From Chaos Comes Order, or: This is How You Write

This is something I have come to realize recently. I mean, really realize:

Writing is messy.

There’s simply no right way to do it. (There are, however, plenty of wrong ones: baking cookies, watching Dexter, and checking your email every seven minutes to see if Mr./Ms. Agent has finished reading your manuscript among them.)

You start with an idea. Probably a half-baked one, if even. We may be talking quarter or eighth or sixteenth-baked here.

The good (or stress-inducing, depending on your perspective) news is that you’ve got another fractionally-baked idea to pair it with. Yay! A salt and pepper set!

And then there are all those other little fragments of something rattling around in your head like broken filaments or a pick stuck inside a guitar. They want to be part of your story, too.

You shake all the pieces out, line them up on the carpet. Really, it’s a bit like emptying one of those $19.99 Everything jars from Goodwill onto the floor and looking at all the Legos and buttons and friendship beads and Canadian money and googly eyes and plastic dinosaurs and popsicle sticks with the jokes on them and stale candy and God knows what and saying, From this I shall build a DeLorean. A sane person would answer: You’re off your rocker and halfway to the moon.

But somehow you string the pieces together. Somehow your choking hazard avalanche of disparate ideas and disorder becomes an outline, then a draft, and then a novel. Give or take 3-300 revisions between.

How do you get from Chaos to finished product? It’s a mystery to me, and frankly some kind of miracle. But there are a few things that do seem to help:

  1. Time. Ideas need to steep. Suggestions need to sit. Parts need to come together. Most of which is outside the actual writing.
  2. Effort. Sometimes the only way to find the path that works is to try all the ones that don’t first. Multiply x 3,756 for all the individual challenges/creative problem-solving issues you might encounter in a single novel.
  3. Determination. Just keep showing up. And showing up. And showing up. You have to work and work some more until it’s done.

Those are the bases. Your ideas are the flavor.

What you make (and how) is up to you.