Sunday, July 12, 2020

Grabbing Those Great Ideas

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is all about Ideas. How do you write down or remember those great ideas that you get mid-shower/dream/car drive? If you lose them, how do you get them back?

It's funny this came up now because I talked about this very thing on my podcast, First Cup of Coffee, just recently - and even commented that I liked what I'd talked through so much that I should transcribe it. So this gave me the impetus to do that - and edit the transcription, which is the time-consuming part.

If you prefer to listen, you can listen here. Or, read on for the transcription! I included the whole thing, but set off the relevant section in bold, in case you don't care for a faithful reproduction of my conversational rambling.

Good morning, everyone. This is Jeffe Kennedy. I'm here with my first cup of coffee. It's Thursday, July 2, and I am back in my grape arbor and my folks are on the road this morning. So the staycation is over. I'm getting back to work today.

It's good to have a little bit of fallow time. But now I am ready to get after it. I have not yet gotten edits back from editor Jennie on The Promised Queen. She said she thought maybe week of June 29. But seeing is how it's Thursday. It might be next week. Which I told her whenever is fine, and that's really true. So that means that I can start in on one of my other projects today, because Lost Princess released on Monday, and thank you all for the wonderful reception for that book.

I can't tell you how happy it makes me to have the book earn out on release day, or a little before, as some of that's before because when you guys buy through my website, I get that money right away. But to go ahead and recoup all of my costs on that first day of release is wonderful, because then after that I can consider it all income. And that's, that's just incredibly useful. So thank you all. And I'm glad that you're happy with the book. And so far, nobody seems to feel cheated.

I won't spoil or anything but there was something I had hoped I'd be able to do with that book. And I just couldn't figure out a way to make make it happen. Although I've received suggestions from several people. Spoiler: cover your ears for just a second if you haven't read it yet. I've received suggestions from several people on how to actually get elephants to Dasnaria. It could happen We'll see. Okay, now you can all come back.

So, yeah, I'm feeling rested, tanned, rested and ready. It's an old joke. Uh, yeah, it's um, it's actually a, like a Nixon joke, I think. Which tells you something. It also tells you something when our political climate is such that we long for the simplicity of Nixon who simply resigned in disgrace and flew off of this helicopter. Ah, the good old days. Right.

So, I will get back into the groove now.

The projects I'm thinking about working on are: going back to Dark Wizard which, I think I told you all, that Grace Draven wants me to just call it Dark Wizard. We're arguing about this. She says, I should just title it Dark Wizard. I'm like, you can't just name a book Dark Wizard. And so then I've started playing with variations on that, you know, a little bit of gamesmanship with wordplay, etymology, you know, sort of like Darth Vader, you know, it could be like Darth. Of course, I can't use Darth because that it immediately evokes Star Wars. But the working title is definitely Dark Wizard. And then I also got another great idea for a story that I don't know what my working title for it should be. But I think it's a really good idea. You know, like one of those ones that zings. Oh no, I started to mention it when I drove in for writer coffee last Thursday, I talked about it some and then I decided that there was too much noise on the podcast and I didn't put it up.

That's one thing about taking some time off and letting the well refill is that sometimes you just get these ideas that pop into your head. And this is one that comes a little bit out of my mentoring session too at SFWA's Nebula conference.

So, I think it's really good idea. I'm tempted to try again. I mean, I know my 3000 words a day is sustainable. I'm definitely going to try to do 3000 words a day. I'll get back into the groove on Dark Wizard - and I'm thinking about trying for more words again later in the day on this new story, on the new shiny. I don't know how that would work. I definitely can't do it right off. And there's probably nothing wrong with letting the idea percolate. Kelly Robson said something about that when I told her I had a new idea. You know, the really good writer friends are the ones who, when you tell them that you have a great new idea, they don't ask you what it is. Because they know better. They know that you're still sort of sitting on the egg as it were. And I do think that there's a possibility of sitting on an egg so long that it goes bad, you know that it's a dud. But I think that if that -

Okay, so here we're going to extend the analogy.

If you're sitting on an egg so long that nothing happens and it's a dud, then I think it was always a dud.

The really good ideas, if you sit on them for a long time, eventually, they're going to start picking their way out of the, the shell. And by that you will know. Different writers are different ways about those things. And you know how I'm always talking about, own your process. Discover what your process is, own it. Keep refining it.

And I feel like this is a lifelong process for all of us. I kind of gave my I finished teaching my class on Identifying and Breaking Bad writing habits. In my rousing goodbye screed, I talked about this, that as much as we would like - and I'll tell you what I am so this person: I want to buy thing and then have it for the rest of my life. I want to be able to learn something and then know it. I want to build a habit, and then have it. And I don't get to have that.

This is not how the universe works, to my great consternation. And with all of these things, it's because building habits and refining your creative process are our processes. And they are iterative. So this means that you keep going back over and over and you keep checking and rechecking to see how they're doing. See how you are doing. Are you still being productive? Is that thing that worked before still working? How can you tweak How can you maximize? How can you maximize in terms of not increasing output, but improving output, which I think is a different thing. You know, like Leslye Penelope, she's been talking about that she just took a break, that she took a couple of weeks off and she's been reading and enjoying herself, that crop rotation idea of letting the fields lie follow. Deanna Rayburn talks about that, that she took like a couple of years off writing, and only read. And I think that those things are very important as part of discovering your process, and refining all of these things.

Every round is different. So it's very tempting to listen to other writers and say, Okay, here's how you do the thing. Like, you know, I had one of the students in my class ask saying, Well, when I do a really detailed outline, I find I lose interest in the story and I struggled to finish it. You know that's a question that we get all the time. This comes up all the time. And it's, it's so funny, because the obvious answer is, then don't do a detailed outline. Your process does not involve doing a detailed outline beforehand. But people get so wrapped up in the idea that that is how you do the thing, that you do this thing by making a detailed outline. And they think that the problem is is is somehow in how they're executing. And it's like, No, no, this is not your creative process.

Figure out what your creative process is.

Own it.

Don't let other people tell you how you should be doing the thing.

So along with this idea of like sitting on, on new ideas, John Scalzi has a very interesting approach. He said that he gets an idea. And he thinks about it a little bit, and then he puts it away. And then if it's still there in the morning, he gives a little bit more thought and then puts it away. And then if it's still there a week later, he gives a little bit more thought and puts it away. And he'll do this for months or a year.

And I thought, well, that's a that's an interesting approach.

Some people I know, like my friend Darynda, she gets ideas, and she has to go ahead and write out a pretty detailed outline of the idea before it'll leave her alone. I don't know if she's still doing that. I should ask her if she's still doing that. We haven't done an interview with her in a couple of years, we should get her back on here. Because these things change, right? That's the most important thing is that these things change over the course of our writing career as we refine our process. You know, so the upshot was is that Darynda has something like 60 plus book outlines on her hard drive, which even she acknowledges is not super productive, because she won't have time to write all of them. But that's it's part of how ideas seize her and how she deals with them. So it would be very interesting to ask her if she's still doing it that way. I will try to remember to make a note poke her and see if she wants to do an interview. I haven't seen her in so long . When was the last time I saw Darynda? January, I guess? Yeah. So it'd be nice to have a nice a good long conversation. And you guys might as well listen in.

I usually the jot down a few notes on the idea, because I will forget it. And that's where  Scalzi would say, well, then it deserves to be forgotten. And I'm not sure I believe that's true. Because sometimes I will go back to my spreadsheet of ideas. And I'll think, oh, that is a great idea. And I'll write down just enough words to make it come alive for me again, and I think I would lose those and I'm not sure that they should be lost.

So then Elizabeth Gilbert talked about - I'll see if I can find the link to this podcast. I think it was like two years ago that I was reading her, maybe just a year. I know, I was doing a podcast on listening to her audio book, which I can't think of the name of now. It's the one on that's kind of like about creativity and magical thinking. (BIG MAGIC) But anyway, she has this idea that that ideas come to you and kind of lurk and wait. And if you don't pay attention to them - she thinks of them as like living things - that if you don't pay attention to them, then they leave and they go find someone else. That was it: she had said that Ann Patchett ended up writing her idea because she didn't get to it, and that it was uncannily close to her own idea.

It makes for a fascinating story.

I'm not sure I believe that, but I kind of like my egg analogy. Part of what I'm thinking about now is okay, I'm working to this idea is like, does it hurt to write down a few thousand words to get the story started and then poke at it every once in a while. I know writers who do this, but I'm thinking back to one concept I had that I did that on, and it did kind of die and lose impetus. So maybe it'd be better to keep it fully in the egg. Maybe this is part of it. It's like, once it starts, once you crack that egg, you know, it's okay to let the idea incubate in the egg. But once you crack that egg, then you either have to feed your little baby bird regularly, insects all the time, like my bluebirds ferry insects to their babies.

Or it'll die. You have to.

That's an interesting concept. So I like the idea of keeping the idea eggs. So thanks guys! You just helped me solve this problem. And, for your information, in case you didn't know, this is exactly how all of my conversations with my friends go: where I ask them questions and they say things and then I arrive at the answer and and thank them and they're like I just sat here and listened to you talk. So you guys are all doing this for me. All right, I won't try to do more than 3000 words a day, because that really does work best for me. It's very sustainable, and it's good. And even though I didn't get that much written the last couple weeks of June. I still am way ahead of last year. So I've been doing much better And on that note, I think I will go get to work today. I need to, I want to get 3000 words on Dark Wizard if I can. And because there's always the ramp up factor, you know, it's just as yesterday morning, I ran on the treadmill again for the first time and today I lifted weights and my body is feeling a little creaky because I've mostly been like, shopping and going out to eat and drinking wine. So, physically and creatively, I am waking up those creaky muscles and getting back to it. So all right: I am getting back to work.

I'll remind you that first cup of coffee is part of the Frolic Media Podcast Network, and you can find more podcasts you'll love at and I will talk to you all tomorrow. Promise. Okay, take care. Bye bye.

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