Monday 12 June 2023

Idea Soup - The Creative Process


One of the things that non-writers always ask is where do you get your ideas from? I've answered this question so many different ways and of course it's a genuinely asked one, but to be honest I'm more excited about a different one, and that is: how do you sort through which idea to write first? I'm sure, all the writers reading this, are pretty much nodding along, because that's the thing when you're a writer, you don't ever just have the one idea, you have several of them, and sorting through them and deciding which one to write first can be a bit difficult.

I've now drafted over forty books, I have my twenty-first book being released in November, and I couldn't be happier about the stories I've told, and the places I've taken my characters and all of that. I'll admit that there have been times towards the end of projects when I get a little writer anxiety of: what happens if I don't ever have another idea? What happens if I don't think of anything to write next? It has never come true, but you know what anxiety is like, you can't always map it out logically.

So how do I sort through the idea soup? How do I know which one is the next thing I want to write? How do I narrow it down when there are just so many of them? I talked before about plot bunnies (piece found here) and I've talked about how you can trap them and make sure they grow up into fully fleshed out ideas, but I don't think I've ever really talked about what to do when you're staring at this idea soup and have no idea how to sort through it all and find that golden pea that will be the companion of yours for the next few months (or however long it takes you to write it) so I thought I'd do that today.


Sticking with the image of all of this being a massive pan of soup, my first step is to make sure that what I'm looking for is going to actually be big enough for me to do something with it. I don't want to take an idea and find out that it's too small without being attached to another idea, to be able to make it into a full length novel. I don't generally do well with short stories (I'm an overwriter and of course everything I write ends up longer than it needs to be, so lots of cutting happens during revision and editing) and I also do better with a big idea than a little one.

So my first step is to sift through, put to the side those little plot twists and the like, because they may still be able to be used, and find the big stuff. The ones that will contain a whole arc for the characters, the ones that may even end up being a series or the like. It's those ones that I want to harvest because they're the ones that I feel are cooked the most. As someone who's written a lot, I can tell you that some ideas that will fall through at this stage, grow up to be big ideas. They just might need a little bit longer in the pot, that's all.

I think this is a very important step, because if you're looking for say, a story for a competition or an anthology or the like, then that's going to have an impact on what you choose. If you're looking for something with series potential then again, it's going to have an impact. Say you want to write a certain genre, and some of your ideas are not going to work, well they can be put to one side and even put back into the pot so that you can come back to them later.

Rachel Morton (channel here) did an excellent video series recently about brainstorming and choosing ideas, and I have to say that I agree with her way of doing things. It is so important to keep that goal in mind, because it will very much impact your choices, as it should. There is no point in going for an idea that you know is going to be a problem for that goal, because then you're wasting your time, and while it may be an excellent idea, it's not the one for right now.

At the end of the day, most writers will always have a preference when it comes to which idea they choose to write next. I am someone who crosses genres, and sometimes I'll be in the mood for some paranormal, other times I want to do dystopian, and other times I just want to stay in this world and do some straight up crime/mystery, and that's obviously going to have an impact in what I choose to write next.

So when you've narrowed down your options, you really need to think about what you personally want to be writing next. I think you'll find that you may be drawn to some ideas more than others, and it's about sitting down and making that choice. You've dug through the soup for them, and it's just a case of deciding which one is calling to you the most, which one are you most excited to write. That will be your golden pea, and it's a choice only you can make for yourself.

So there we go, that's how I usually sort through the idea soup. I've got a massive document on my computer and ipad that list out all my ideas. I make sure that when I have some little, or big, ones I write them down because they need to grow and cook and become ready for when I do want to write them. Sometimes it's things like a simple premise. Other times it's a whole plot. It really just does depend on when and where the plot bunnies hit.

Any questions? Lemme know in the comments!

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