Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

When I confess to being a writer, I can usually count on being asked one of three questions, if not all three.

1. Where do you get your ideas.

2. How long does it take you to write a book?


3. How much money do you make?

I’ve never understood why people need to know how long it takes me to write a book. When I did a radio interview in Sydney with the amazing Nora Roberts, her answer was, “As long as it takes every time.” Do you think people are hoping we’ll say we dashed the book off in a week? They certainly seem disappointed when I tell them a romance novel takes me around three months to complete. The book may have been germinating in my head for a lot longer, sometimes years, until I find the right characters and conflict to make the story work. Sometimes the act of writing the book is much faster, and perhaps that’s the element most non-writers associate with “writing”. But as I’ve said many times, a writer (ie me) is working when they’re staring out a window. Which leads me to the big question, where writers get ideas.

American novelist, Lawrence Block, said he tried telling people he subscribes to The Ideas Book, a magazine filled with plot ideas from which subscribers could pick and choose. They could reserve an idea they liked and build a book around it. None of this was true, of course, there’s no such publication. But too many people believed there was, and asked Block how they could become subscribers.

What is an idea, really? Is it a grand flash of inspiration? Where does it come from and why does it land on some people and not others? The answer is often simply practice. Writers and artists get more ideas/flashes of inspiration because we spend more time looking for them. We train ourselves to see 2 plus 2 and answer – a pair of swans or 22. And then keep asking the question until we get really bizarre answers like aliens who live and die in pairs, or mirror image creatures called 2 and plus2. You can play this game yourself and I’ll guarantee you’ll start getting excited about at least one of your answers. Maybe enough to want to write about it.

At my website I have a home study course called Free the Writer in You which gives you more tools like this to improve your own creativity. I tutor every students individually, which is why you should probably sit down before clicking on the cost. But you will learn how to handle the hardest part of the writing process – overcoming your fear. I’ll deal with fear in another post, because it’s a big issue and more common than most would-be writers realize.  In the meantime, you now know at least part of the answer to where we get ideas.

As to how much money I make, I can only say that people have a lot of strange ideas about that, too.


Comments on: "What’s it all about, Alfie? Where do you get ideas?" (4)

  1. MicheleKS said:

    If people knew about the money part of the writing business they wouldn’t want to be writers, would they?

    From a bat with a bit of mis-smell

    • Thanks for commenting, Michele. Much of a writer’s potential income depends on the size of the publisher, their distribution network and the kind of books your talent leads you to write. I’m thankful I love writing romances which claim the largest market in the world. Had I been born a poet, life would have been very different. It’s not something we can easily control. All we can do is write to the best of our ability, whatever that may be.

  2. Sherry Jones said:

    As a current student of your writing course, Free the Writer in You, I can honestly say that with each lesson more and more of the creativity and writerly playfulness inside me expands and comes to play a lot more quickly than before.

    Fear. Yeah, that’s the one that I struggle with. Fear the Muse has/will desert me. I’m glad to say that I’ve learned the Muse HASN’T left me yet, but she hasn’t quite trained me to heel just yet. *wink* But I’m a fast learner. LOL.

    • I’m thrilled you’re getting so much out of the course, Sherry. It’s a pleasure working with you. LOL at your Muse training you. It really feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Reminds me of the old saying about a man chasing a woman until she catches him. 🙂

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