I know some people struggle with inspiration, and I am blessed that I am not one of them (I’m sorry, I really do feel your pain). Sometimes, my ideas grow into full novels, and sometimes they get scrapped early on (I almost always know by the second chapter). I was recently asked where I find inspiration, and I quipped that inspiration finds me.
I feel lucky that my inspiration is so insistent (I swear, it really is like lightning strikes or a train runs me over, and pop! I have an idea for a novel). Sometimes, I wish I had a little more consistency when it came to ideas. Sure I can come up with ideas, but my novels really do pop into my mind almost fully formed. This is not how everyone gets their ideas. And once, to prove to myself that I could, I took another route. I didn’t write the novel that dumped itself into my brain. I started with a little seed of something, and laboriously developed it. Like an architect, I designed the conflict. I dreamt up the world. I designed the bad guy to fit the MC. I threw rocks at my MC, and she scrambled up the plot tree like all the other stories. People who have read that story absolutely love it. They love it just as much as the novel ideas that plow me over in the grocery store, ensuring that I forget to pick up the milk.
Which is to say, ideas are cheap. Yes, I get them in great spouting torrents that will ruin my whole day because I have to write down every scrap of note that comes my way. But—BUT—ideas can be developed from the tiniest moments in your everyday life. They can be cultivated and coaxed into very compelling stories.
And here’s where people will just want to shoot me: it’s a skill, not a talent.
The ability to take an idea and develop it into a rich and powerful novel is a skill. You can learn how to do it. All of it. Yes some people are more talented than others, but this isn’t like being a ballerina. With ballet, you have to be born with the right body, have talent pouring out fingernails, AND you have to WORK HARD for years, giving up most of your childhood.
Getting ideas for novels isn’t like that. You don’t need any talent at it, just curiosity and the ability to project something into the future. If you can answer the question “What if?” Then you have all it takes to come up with an idea for a novel. (If you can answer the question “how could this be worse?” you’re already on your way to being a fantastically evil writer!) During his class at BYU on novel writing, Brandon Sanderson talks about the difference between the ideas that are mulishly dragged into a novel through monotonous drudgery and the stories that pour from the author’s fingertips.
You know the difference to the reader right? Nothing. That’s right, most readers cannot tell the difference between the novels that are a dragged into existence by teams of wild horses, and the stories that just blossomed out of the snow.
I’m not gonna lie: I’m lucky, but I’ve done it the other way. It’s totally doable. So if you’re hanging out right now trying to figure out how to get an idea for your next novel, just know that you’re not alone. It ain’t easy, but if you don’t want to wait for inspiration, only you will know the difference. And it might even work out more efficiently. Recently, my ideas have been delivered by a disheveled muse with an armful of papers. He throws the pile at me and rushes for the door. “Can’t talk, late!” Quite the prat, really. I mean late for what? Was that poor muse assigned to my case by losing a bet or what? Are budgets so bad they started assigning muses whole bevies of young authors in the hopes that some would drop out and not waste the muse? Still, the whole idea is there, but I have to spend longer and longer untangling it.
How about you? Got a muse up your sleeve? Is he half as busy as mine? Does he look like the same muse? I’m starting to wonder if he’s pulling double duty (and why is mine a he??).