Good Ideas

I don’t like to ask the authors I interview where their ideas for books come from, because the slightly embarrassing truth is no one knows. Not in the way we know where, say, babies come from. Although, truthfully, the answer is more or less the same. An idea is attractive to a writer for reasons he cannot fully understand. Perhaps he met that idea in an article or on television; perhaps he met it when he idly asked himself, “What if?” However he met it, he eventually spends more and more time with that idea until he decides that this relationship is serious enough to at last consummate it on the blank page. The difference, of course, is that biologists can watch a baby being made, but no one can watch an idea being formed. Which is why I don’t ask writers where their ideas come from. It can inspire a tiny existential crisis. I do sometimes ask writers how they know an idea is attractive. We meet a lot of ideas in a single day. What is the difference between an idea that is attractive enough to pursue all the way to the page, and one that is not?

This is a more practical question than the other. In fact, it may be the most practical question I could ever ask myself. Every idea, like every relationship, like every job, is a path I follow. What is the difference between a path I seem to be cutting through the bramble myself, and one that opened for me? What is the difference between discovering and making, between receiving an idea and grabbing the first one that appears in my mind?

The answer may seem obvious when asked this way, but it is not always so obvious in the busy marketplace that is my mind. How easy to mistake the stillness of waiting for an idea, for the boredom of impatience; or the momentum of following an idea for the momentum of running from failure. Yet to learn that difference, as I must every day, is to find oneself, an idea that needs nothing but love.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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