Tuesday, June 3, 2008

So You Want to Write a Book

Guess what? You’re not alone. According to some surveys, 80 percent of the U.S. population wants to write a book. And it sounds pretty cool, right? Flashing a shiny, new book with your name embossed across the front cover. (Total Aside: You imagine doing that, but then when you actually have a shiny new book you feel a little self-conscious flashing it to people because you worry that they’ll think you’re full of yourself.) The fame, the book signings with lines stretching out the store and down the block (*snort* maybe if you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King).Yeah… the good life.

Well, if you’re one of those 80 percent, then how do you get from wanting to actually writing a book? Drum Roll… The first step is to have a good idea.

Stay with me here. I am betting that a good chunk of people wanting to write a book don’t actually know what they want to write a book about. You know, you just have this nebulous idea that writing a book about . . . well, something . . . would be really cool. You first need to figure out what that “something” is. So let’s delve a little into the realm of ideas.

How do authors get their ideas?

The answer to this is as varied as authors themselves. I get my ideas for non-fiction because of a need in my own life which I notice isn’t addressed very well. For example, I wrote Parenting the Ephraim’s Child because of what I couldn’t find in other parenting books. Think of a book that you would like to read but haven’t been able to find, then write it.

Believe it or not, I have way more fiction ideas than non-fiction ideas. I have a notebook full of story ideas, and these story ideas have come in many different ways.

It may be that I see a news article or hear about something, and think what if. For example, in today’s headlines is the story “Boy Once Confined to Bubble Emerges Seemingly Healed.” A 7 year-old boy who has a genetic mutation called NEMO (what endless title possibilities!) finally emerges from his bubble. This could be a great coming-of-age story. Or what about a fantasy where not only does the genetic mutation cause immune problems, but maybe superpowers too? Or this could be a story from the parents’ point of view. What would it be like to be the mother of this child? How would it impact siblings?

Sometimes I’ll just have an idea for a dilemma. What if you had to pretend insanity to keep from being killed for political reasons, for example. Jodi Piccoult writes excellent dilemma books. One of my favorites, My Sister’s Keeper, is based on the dilemma of one child that has leukemia and parents that have another child to be a matched donor for the first.

You can even take a story and think how you could twist it in a completely different way. Fractured fairy tales like Robin McKinley writes—Spindles End (Sleeping Beauty), Beauty (Beauty and the Beast), and Rose Daughter (another retelling of Beauty and the Beast)—are great examples of this.

The book I am currently working on originally stemmed from a story I told my son on a rainy day to keep him entertained. He asked to be told the story again and again. The idea then morphed when I heard of the title for another book and decided to do a little research. I have combined both ideas into my current project.

I get many ideas from music. Not the lyrics of music, but the feel of a song. The idea for the next book I’m going to write, in fact, popped almost complete into my head while listening to a song in the car one day. I can’t listen to that song when writing anything else, because it belongs to that one book. And when I start writing it, all I have to do to get in the right mood is play that song.

So, there you go. A few ideas on how to get ideas. I’m sure there are many other ways and I would love for anyone to share other ways they get ideas. The point is, ideas are everywhere, and if you’re a writer at heart, you will find them.

Next time I’ll talk a little bit about how not all ideas are equal, or how to choose an idea.

2 comments:

Josi said...

I get a lot of my fiction ideas from news items, current issues that I pose a question to myself about. I find it very inspiring. Very good post, Jamie, and I love the part about think of a book you'd like to read and write it.

Rowena said...

Good post.

I like your bubble boy example, and being me, I like the story where the genetic mutation gives new abilities, oh the possibilities.

Orson Scott Card (I assume you are familiar) said that all his ideas are actually two unrelated ideas that collide, and in the act of putting those two ideas together, a synergy is created that sustains a novel length work.