We’ve all had it, that idea that comes in a rush. It can knock you for a mental loop. Cause you to stare off in the distance at inopportune times. (Hopefully, we’re not driving when it happens.) Sometimes, it’s so distracting that even others will notice. And if they know you’re a writer, they’ll ask:
“You just got an idea for a book, didn’t you?”
And you will respond (sometimes in a strangled, high-pitched voice usually reserved for Bieber fans): “YES!”
A million times, yes. The muse has struck you. It is incandescent. Soul-shaking. And in that moment, you will be convinced that the idea is so perfect, so original, so breathtakingly magnificent, your first instinct will be…
“I’ve got to write this all down rightnowbeforeitdisappears!”
Hold your quill, Shakespeare.
Today, I want to talk a little about how valuable it can be to do something a lot of writers don’t like to do. I want you to take that perfect, luminous perfection that is your book idea and… wait.
“NO!” you say. “If I wait, then I will lose the momentum! I will miss the golden window of inspiration that the muse has granted me! I must write it NOW!”
No, you don’t. In fact, I’m going to recommend that you don’t write any ideas down the first moment you have them. That’s right. None. What I want you to do is make that idea work a little bit.
Make your idea work?
That’s right. Make that incandescent inspiration work for you. Let it roll around in the brainspace. Is it going to disappear? Maybe. I’ve had a lot of ideas hit me fleetingly and by the next week, they’re forgotten. I don’t miss them. The good ideas, the ones you’re going to be passionate about, are the ones that won’t leave you alone.
Make the idea prove itself worthy of your attention. You’re the boss of it, after all. Let it fester a bit. Take a walk. (We’re writers; we can always use more exercise.) Take a shower. Take a nap. The more that idea bounces around, the more that nascent plot resolves in your mind, the better the idea probably is.
Teach your muse patience. Sometimes, it might lead you off in a direction you’d never expect. Sometimes, it will reinforce the original idea or character that started it all. The point of it is, as long as it’s in your head, you haven’t committed to anything. Let yourself ask questions. (You’re asking questions, right?)How would I react in that situation? What’s the worst that could happen? If I met character A, would I like them? (The answer shouldn’t always be yes.) What’s the worst thing this character has ever done? The best? Can I replace that character with another? What makes him or her essential?
Ask LOTS of questions.
The best ideas I’ve ever had have been the ones I’ve held the longest in my mind. They’re the ones that made it out of the minor league of my imagination and into a notebook where I’ve finally written them down and developed them into actual books.
A Hidden Fire? Four months before I even started character sketches.
Cambio Springs? Six months, at least.
The Istanbul project? I’d say about four months on that one, too.
Writers are weird. Once we write things down, we have a tendency to commit to them. If you’ve started a timeline or a character sketch, it can be hard to erase the work you’ve already done and start over. By taking the time to let an idea develop in your mind, you’re going to allow yourself some freedoms with plot and character and theme that you might not allow if you’re writing everything down and trying to put that idea into words.
Give yourself time. Books aren’t a whirlwind romance, so by all means, be afraid of commitment. Does it always work like this? Well, no, because every writer is different. And if you’ve found a system that works for you, then don’t mess with it.
BUT, if you’re finding yourself stuck. If you’re getting 2/3 of the way through a book and then spotting all sorts of plot tangles you hadn’t anticipated, if you just want to try something different, then on your next book, consider teaching patience to the muse. Let that idea wait, but…
Don’t wait forever. Write.
Thanks for reading,