Where Do Ideas Come From?
A friend told me about a handy gadget for people like me, who get random thoughts at inconvenient times. It’s a waterproof notepad and pencil which can be mounted in the shower to jot down ideas or notes before they are washed away. (Since I often have ideas come to me while in the shower, I just might get one of these.)
This got me thinking about the various times and places that things pop into my head. For example, my other common – if inopportune – time for thoughts or reminders to occur is while I am sleeping. I keep a small notepad in my nightstand to jot them down so I can go back to sleep. (Otherwise, I would spend the rest of the night hoping I remember the thought.) And I have pads of sticky notes scattered all over, to capture notes and reminders in other locations.
Most of these notes, while they may be related to a story I am working on, are not original story ideas. People have asked me where my ideas for stories come from. The truth? Most of them are from dreams. Every few months, I have a dream which I realize would make a good story. This realization usually formulates in my subconscious while I am still sleeping. So now, in addition to the small notepad for quick notes, I also keep a larger journal for story ideas in my nightstand.
I used to wait hours or even days to write these ideas down. But then I lost too many of the details. As a result, I have learned to wake up right away and jot down the story idea in my journal while it is fresh in my mind. Often, as I am writing it down, I find myself expanding the idea beyond the original dream. The pages in the journal are about half the size of a standard sheet of paper, and I usually have several pages of notes for each idea.
The pages of the journal are also removable. I periodically take the pages out and put them into one of two similarly-sized binders. One binder contains ideas for historical romance stories, and the other binder contains ideas for contemporary or romantic suspense stories. These inexpensive binders are, to me, two of the most important items in my house. (Yes, there are things which are more important – but these are near the top of the list.)
They are important to me because they represent my future as a writer. A writer needs ideas to write about. And these binders reassure me that I will have plenty of stories to write for years to come.
Starting a New Story
It has been a week now since I returned from the RWA conference in San Diego, and things are slowly returning to normal. As much as I enjoyed spending time with the other writers at the conference, it is nice to be able to focus more on my writing again.
I am in the research and plotting stages of a new historical romance. This one is not a western, but instead takes place in England during the Georgian period. I have had most of the plot written out ever since I got the idea for this story years ago. But I felt it would be worth the time now to take another look at what I had, and see if it needed to be expanded. I have learned I am definitely a “Plotter” not a “Pantser,” so I might as well embrace the label and apply what it means to my latest story.
Writers who are “Pantsers” seem to enjoy the freedom of writing without a plan, just putting down whatever scene comes into their head. Not “Plotters.” Not me. I learned this lesson through hard experience. I tried to take less time for plotting before I wrote my last two stories, and it ended up slowing me down. Whenever I got to a part where I didn’t have a clear idea of what happened next, I “froze up” and couldn’t write until I figured it out. It ended up taking more time to write the stories this way than it would have if I took the time to think it all out ahead of time.
So now I acknowledge, I am a “Plotter” through and through. Having learned my lesson, I am writing a detailed summary of my new story before I start the manuscript. The next step is seeing how it fits into a standard story plot structure. I like to use a combination of Blake Synder’s Beat Sheets describing the key points of a story, overlaid on the visual diagram of a “W” plot structure.
As I mentioned earlier, I already had a multi-page summary written up. In fact, given I wrote the original summary long before I knew anything about plot structure, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it fell into place on a “W” plot diagram. Most of the key points were already in my story summary, although I did need to beef up the “Black Moment” and the “Dark Night of the Soul” moment at the end when the hero thinks he has failed completely. (I guess I was in too much of a hurry to get to the Happily Ever After!)
Once I figure out some key places to sprinkle in bits of the back story, I think my outline will be in good shape. That makes me happy. This story idea has been dormant in the back of my mind for a long time, waiting patiently for me to get to it. Soon, it will come to life on the pages of my next manuscript. I’ll keep you updated on each key stage of my story’s development.
Back From RWA in San Diego
I just got home from San Diego last night, and I’m still trying to organize my thoughts and impressions about it. I had a wonderful time, and there are many images flipping through my mind right now, as though I am fanning the pages of a picture book.
One thing I can tell you for sure – the level of friendship and support shown by everyone there is nothing short of amazing. I have known it for a while, but going to the conference reminded me again that the (mostly) women in the romance writing industry are the nicest, most helpful, non-diva group of people you will ever meet. All week, I saw authors (some of them names you would recognize) freely giving of their time and talents to help other writers. They were doing everything from volunteering for menial tasks during the conference to conducting workshops – and always with a smile.
The camaraderie was never more obvious than during the awards gala on Saturday night. The entire room – hundreds of people – clapped and cheered for every single finalist as they were announced. The cheering and clapping for each winner as they walked across the stage was nothing short of astonishing. This was not polite golf clapping – it was a loud and enthusiastic outpouring of joy. I suspect the people watching via the live stream could not get a proper sense of the remarkable energy in the room.
I was even a little surprised at my own enthusiasm for the winners, especially for the Golden Heart winners. This group of fantastic women bonded together in the weeks leading up to San Diego, and even more while we were there. I didn’t win the Golden Heart in my category, but I knew the woman who did, and I was super excited for her – almost as excited as I would have been for myself. It was the same for the winners of the other categories. These women weren’t competitors; they were my friends. And I was very happy to see my friends win.
I am glad I went to the RWA conference in San Diego, and not just because I can cross it off my bucket list. It was an incredible experience, and one I will never forget. My biggest takeaway? The reminder that I am surrounded by an amazing group of giving, talented, supportive romance writers.
I couldn’t be in better company.
I write historical fiction, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.