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Where Do I Get My Ideas?

As an author, it's the most common question I get asked. "Where do you get your ideas?"

I think the way it happens for me is probably very similar to how it happens for most authors. The idea for my next book starts to form in my head piece-by-piece when I'm winding down on my current book. The idea, for me at least, also comes in different pieces for each book.

Sometimes my "idea" might be vague, like knowing I want to write a secret baby mafia romance. Sometimes it's more specific like I want to write a book where the hero is a famous author living a rockstar lifestyle (Savage). As far as where the ideas come from though, that's tough to say.

I think sometimes it's sparked when I'm reading. For example, when I was reading Midnight Blue, by L.J. Shen, I decided I wanted to write Savage. I wanted to write about a character who had lived that rockstar lifestyle and just wanted to get away from it, so he had moved out to the mountains and renounced his fame.

The most significant challenge for me is not to keep falling into the same patterns. As much as I think a lot of readers enjoy sticking to a familiar pattern with the books they read, the only way I can keep my writing feeling fresh to myself is to keep trying to change things up. So I often have to tweak my original idea in a deliberate way, which brings me to the second part.

No matter how the idea arrives, it never comes complete. You could say there's an organic aspect of the process, which is the idea popping in your head. I think this is the aspect that gets glorified for anyone who aspires to be a writer. It's easy to think that's the hard part or the part that makes some authors unique. While it may be for some, for myself and many others, the most critical part is to turn the rough nugget of an idea into a story.

If you look at some of your favorite movies or books, you can always reduce them to a single line "elevator pitch." A guy realizes what we think is the real world is just a simulation run by robots who are harvesting humans for energy (The Matrix). A guy has short-term memory loss and has to tattoo reminders on his body to solve a mystery (Memento). While those are pretty interesting nuggets to start a story from, you can see how there are so many different angles you could take these stories. The writer has to decide on the atmosphere, the pacing, how much focus goes on which elements of the story, etc.

Once I have my little nugget or seed to start the story, I tend just to start writing. I'm not much of an outliner, like many of my colleagues. Every time I try to sit down and plot out a book, I end up just getting too excited to start writing and end up jumping in. I was always terrible about taking notes in school because I knew I'd never go back to look at them, which I think is part of my problem. Even when I did outline some of my earlier books, I never actually went back to follow the outline.

For me, it feels too artificial to try to plan out the book. I'm just not good enough at "knowing" my characters before I've put them through some tests. It helps me to think of it as the first dozen, or so pages of my book are a series of tests. I go into them blind and let my characters make their own decisions. I hold an idea of what they look like and their past in my head and then try to let *them* decide what to do. It's a weird experience to describe, but I know I'm doing it right when the characters do things I didn't want them to do.

So how can I plan out a story when I don't know if my characters are going to be willing to follow the script?

Beyond that, I've also been asked if I'm worried I'll ever run out of ideas. The truth is that yes, I do worry. I think the secret is just to keep living my life and reading books. As long as I'm experiencing new things and changing my perspective on things, I'll always have different stories I want to tell and different people I want to write about. If I shut myself in a room for the rest of my life and just try to pump out books though? Then yes, I'm pretty sure I'd run out of ideas very quickly.

If you're a writer or if you just have an idea you wish you could find time to turn into a story, how'd it come to you? Let me know!

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