I don’t know if it’s because I have a vivid imagination, because I am a writer, or just a blessing by God, but I have always had dreams that present themselves in technicolor. Some are bad, which is understandable, but many are very good. And it has been just the past year or two that I have started paying attention to those dreams and in the case of many of them, turning them into short stories. An example of this is “The Grove,” which I posted here just a few days ago. I encourage you to read it, because I consider it one of the best short stories I have ever written.
Writers are often asked where their ideas come from. And most writers just reply, either “I don’t know,” or “They just come to me.” It’s not an easy question to answer, but I think the reality is that writers who have more than one story in them put themselves in a position to always be looking for that next idea.
It’s something you learn when you become an editor. Because even more than a writer, an editor has to have a constant flow of ideas. Editors of newspapers always–always–are listening, watching and reading with that next story idea in mind. The same goes for any other kind of editor out there.
That’s a trick that takes a while to develop, mostly turbocharged by desperation. The old saying goes (which I made up): “The hardest magazine issue (or book) to do is not the first one. It’s the second one, because you generally use up all your good ideas on the first one.”
Same goes for writing books. Many young writers spend years developing their first book, and if their talent is sufficient, and their luck holds out, they see their name up in lights: “Behold the Great New Author!! All hail! All hail!” And after the limelight dies down, they are faced with the grim reality. Are they a One Hit Wonder, or will they come up with another idea As Good, nay, BETTER than the first one? That’s always the challenge.
I read recently how J.K. Rowling came up with her idea for the Harry Potter series. She was riding on the train, watching the people around her. Suddenly she had the idea of students traveling on the train on their way to a school for magicians. She sat on the train for the next couple of hours, the wheels turning, until she had formulated the gist of her series idea. A couple of years later, she had a story that was first rejected many times, but then found worldwide success. Today she is one of the richest women in the world.
Having a successful book endeavor takes three parts: a good, original idea (or at least a fresh approach toward an old idea); the writing skill sufficient to make it into something worthwhile; and a whole lot of a third element (serendipity? luck? kismet? blessing of God?) More on that third element at a later date.
I think I have pretty well mastered the second step. I have no control over the third. What most intrigues–and challenges–me these days is the first one. Like all writers–and editors–I am constantly looking for the next great, original idea.