Ideas = Cheap and Plentiful

2013 update: This post was originally inspired by a post on the same subject by Justine Larbalestier and Eleanor Arnason’s response when I linked it.

When I say that ideas are easy, what I mean is that producing the basic idea isn’t all that much work by comparison to the other parts of writing a book. It can take no more than a few minutes and sometimes happens as a subconscious process.

Doing the research, blocking out what to do with the idea, and writing and polishing the book can take anywhere from months to years of hard work. That’s certainly been the case for me. The core of even the best of my story ideas have happened in a flash or the length of a dream. Crafting that idea into an actual story is what takes real time and major effort.

I’m a relatively fast writer–I’ve written a 5,000 word story in single day and sold it, and I routinely write novels for my publisher in under six months. In that same six months I will come up with dozens of new story ideas. Most of them will be discarded, but a few go into the ideas file, a few get plotted out for possible later use, and might even became the next novel. I’ve had hundreds of novel ideas that I think are really cool and thousands that I’ve thought would make a decent book. I’ve only written twenty because the writing is where the work and the effort go.

Is the production of the initial idea easy in absolute terms? I suppose that depends on the writer. In my case, I can’t not produce story ideas in job lots.

Is it easy by comparison to taking the core of the idea and doing the research and reshaping needed to make it into something you could hang a book on? That’s certainly been my experience. Is it really easy compared to the actual months long day-in-day-out effort of writing and polishing the actual novel? Again, that been my experience.

More than that, idea generation is pure unadulterated joy, especially if you can get someone else to do the fiddly bits. One of the most entertaining things Wyrdsmiths does as a writers group* is to sit around and brainstorm solutions to story problems. I always find that to be an electric experience. Dozens of ideas get thrown out in a matter of minutes, batted around, added to, twisted, knocked down, thrown out–it’s like eight-way tennis with ten balls, some of which have really strange properties. And, if it’s not my story we’re talking about, I don’t even have to make the implementation work.

So yes, I think idea generation is easy for a certain value of easy.

*at least for me.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog May 13 2008, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)