Sunday, January 20, 2013

But I'm not creative!!!

There are a few questions that, as a writer, I get asked all the time. One of the most common ones is this: where do I get my ideas? When I answer, "I made them up", almost 100% of the time the next response is something along the lines of  'I wish I could write a book but I'm not creative.'

So here's the truth: I didn't think I was either. Before I started writing, I thought authors were these people who just naturally had a brain full of awesome ideas that just popped into their heads without any effort at all. And maybe that is true for some lucky writers. But the truth is (for me at least), coming up with ideas is hard work. It involves constantly thinking of the world in a different way, asking myself questions, actively looking for inspiration and not just waiting for it to come to me.

Let's do a quote, shall we?

"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."--Jack London.

It's brilliant because it's true.

So if you'd like to come up with book ideas, start paying attention to the world around you. Start asking yourself questions.

'What if' questions are helpful.

The inspiration for STARTERS by Lissa Price was born after she'd tried and failed to get a flu shot during a shortage--they were only giving it out to the very old, the very young, and the sickly. She asked herself 'what if this was a killer flu? Then all we'd have left is the very young, the very old and the sickly. What kind of a world would that be?'

Recently I did an interview with Lenore Appelhans, author of LEVEL 2. Lenore said her book was inspired by asking herself two questions: '1. What might currency look like in the afterlife--are certain memories more valuable than others? And 2. What might a dystopian afterlife look like.'

Another method: Think of a common idea, then think about how you could spin that idea in a way that's never been done before. Cinder by Marissa Meyer is a good example. Cinderella retellings had been done nearly to death, but Cinderella as a robot? Now that's interesting. Vampire novels existed way before Twilight. Sparkling, high-school vampire in love with a human? That's new. Author Ellen Oh says this about her inspiration to write PROPHECY: "The idea was about how everyone believes that the hero of legend is a young prince. But instead, it turns out that the hero is actually a girl. It came from that place in me that was so tired of being overlooked for being female. So tired of the sexism and misogyny in our world. I wanted a story where the girl didn’t need to wait for a prince to come and save her because she was the hero of her own story."

Pay attention to the world around you. Suzanne Collins was flipping channels between a reality TV show and news coverage on the war when the idea for THE HUNGER GAMES was born.

Stephanie Meyer was famously inspired to write Twilight after a dream.

You might find inspiration in your own life experience. Author Tracy Holczer was inspired by a decision she made in childhood that she regretted. She wrote a story where the main character chooses differently.

Sometimes a picture is inspiring. Sometimes a word or phrase. My sister, who is also an author, was going to write an adult historical and planned to call it THE WITCH HUNTER'S BIBLE. She changed her mind and never did write that book, but the title inspired me. I used that inspiration to write a book about a popular cheerleader whose perfect life is threatened when a stranger tells her that the family bible just stolen from the attic of her mom's occult shop could mean the end to witches everywhere.

Sometimes I brainstorm ideas with my sister. Sometimes, I brainstorn with my husband. His suggestions?
-My main character should contract a UTI. The climax of the book is a fraught journey to the clinic.
-My main character should have three nipples
-The secret to getting to an alternate dimension should be to fart three times in a row.
(In case you were wondering, those ideas are still up for grabs :D)

Anyway, the point of my rambling is this: just because an idea didn't pop into your head without effort, doesn't mean you're not creative. You just have to try.

"You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice we're doing it." --Neil Gaiman.


  1. So true. I just got an idea for a story after watching an episode of I shouldn't be Alive. News articles have also been a great way to get new ideas.

  2. First off, I love your husband's idea about alternate dimensions and farting. I might have to remember that one. :D
    I think it was Lawrence Block in Telling Lies for Fun and Profit who said that writers can potentially be inspired by anything and everything around them. Every little thing you see, do, or experience could possibly lead to inspiration. Being an observer is one of my favorite things about being a writer; not only do I get to see the world in a different way from other people, but I get to share my experiences.

    1. At least his ideas are good for a belly laugh :)

      Completely agree re: Lawrence Block's advice. That's a good one to remember.

  3. Michelle did you ever think you'd be blogging about UTI's and farting? Lmfao.

    You and I have had this conversation before. I told you that I wanted to write a book but I wasn't creative enough to come up with a plot, and you told me to not just sit there and hope that an idea magically appears, but to look for inspiration. Totally worked! Great advice.

    1. I've come up in the world, haven't I? :P

      Glad my advice helped!

  4. I did not know that about WHB!!
    Also, this post is so, so true!

    1. And now you know! (Also, how did you not know?!)

  5. My favourite post so far !
    How about those who are super lazy ? Is there a cure for that ?

    1. Glad you liked it, Paulina! I was thinking of you when I wrote it!

      Also, lazy? You're right. A degree in what? Biomolecular science? And now almost a pharmacist...yes, that's my definition of lazy!

  6. Ha! I love your husband's brainstorming contributions. They sound a lot like something my husband would suggest, though his favorite solution is just to kill someone -- usually the protagonist or her love interest. Which might actually solve a LOT of my book problems. No need for a resolution when all the characters are dead.

    1. HA! They're pretty hilarious, aren't they. I can always count on him for a good laugh. Sometimes that's the best solution when I'm stressed about the plot.

  7. Haha, your husband's ideas are hilarious. Also, I love this post :) So, so true. And all Neil Gaiman quotes are genius imo lol.

  8. Great ideas, hubby! Prior to becoming a writer I believed the ideas just coursed through the veins of writers and they never had to search for inspiration. Well, either we search sometimes...or I'm doing something wrong!!