Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Big Idea

Interviews with authors are pretty predictable sometimes, aren't they? You can guess half the questions in advance, presumably because there are only so many questions relevant to the topic of writing, and because if you ask everyone the same questions, then it becomes easier to spot trends and differences. Since I suspect we at least partly read the interviews in the hopes that they will reveal some big secret of writing that we don't already know, it may even be a good thing.

The question that always slightly annoys me though is "where do you get your ideas?". Partly because of the assumption that it is the ideas rather than what the author does with them that is important, partly because it raises the image of someone nipping out to the shops for some pasta and a value pack of fresh ideas, but mostly because I suspect it is the wrong question.

What's the right question then I hear you... oh. Look, if one of you could ask it, it would really help. Much better. For me, at least, the question is "how do you decide between the twenty million ideas you've got? Do you throw a dart and see what it hits?" The world is full of inspiration, full of potential ideas. Full of opportunities to give up on what you're currently writing and write something that grabs your attention. I know that at least one person reading this is like this, and I'm going to go further, and say that quite a lot of writers are. You see something in the street, or the newspaper, or hear a reference to something, and you think "that's a great idea! I should write something about that!"

The thing is, most of these ideas aren't that good. They're just ideas, distractions. Try to run with them and they'll unravel. Or worse, you'll be good enough as a writer to do something with them. Yes, I said worse. Think about it. How long does it take you to write a novel? Or even a short story? Flash fiction? When you accept an idea for a particular format, you're going to be running with it for anything from minutes to years. So that's the big question you have to ask: Is this idea worth the time I'm going to have to put in? Or, to look at it another way: is this an idea I want to spend the next X amount of time on?

It's why I'm not usually a fan of the more cynical end of the "write for the market" approach. Absolutely, do it if you are a fan of the genre. Do it if you think that your big idea that fits the market is what you want to spend months writing. Don't do it if you'd much rather do something else. Write that, instead. You'll make a better job of it.

That is, incidentally, what I try to do, rather than what I always do. And, failing that, there's always the dartboard option.

2 comments:

Hector Macdonald said...

Hi Stu

Heather Thornton suggested you might be interested in www.bookdrum.com, where you can add information, images, video, music and links to illustrate and explore favourite books.

Right now, we're running a £2,000 Tournament and we'll be offering contract work to the best entries.

Best wishes

Hector Macdonald
Editor, Book Drum

Bavardess said...

I agree. A much better question is 'how do you sustain your big idea throughout the writing and re-writing process, however long and painful that turns out to be?'