Monday, March 4, 2013


Any writer who turns out an interesting story on a consistent basis has heard the question, "Where do you get your story ideas?" Frequently it is a question from a novice writer, but more frequently it is from a reader. Most Authors find it a silly question.

There is another side to this issue. The person who says, "Hey, I have a great idea for you." Some go further with, "I have a great idea, you're a writer. Why don't you write it, and we can split the profits."

Right. "Profits".

I've tried to explain all this repeatedly over the years to various types of people, some close to me, some basically unknown to me. Today I had a vision of how to answer this.

I was a technical writer. I wrote on demand, as journalists do, or many other types of writers. It was painful and frequently thankless. The thanks came in the decent pay. But you'd get managers giving you no thought to the effort or skill of your words. Same with programmers I suppose. You're just supposed to do it. THanks comes in your having the job, doing what you love, or the pay which is certainly better than digging a ditch and much less physically challenging by far.

But it is rote work. I had moments of brilliance as a tech writer but mostly I was competant. Tech writing has a goal, to share information for the purposes of a funtion, to make it understandable to a specific audience. You may have to know the topic to write it, research it, learn it, or have to interview people for the information.

But I'm referring here to fiction writing. Conveying feelings through made up stories, based or not upon reality. When I write, I have to "feel" it. I prefer to feel it. i don't have to, but it's more rewarding and I think I do a better job if I have a feeling for it. If I get a feeling for an idea, it starts as a kernal, an idea, a seed of thought, and it grows within me.

I guess I see three types of writing processes.

For the purporses of this blog, I'll call them: rote, seed and corridor.

Rote, is like tech writing. It's on demand, you do it for pay and you produce when needed. It's like journalism, or scientific writing. It's just, writing. Not to diminish it, but it is a technical skill. You start somewhere and build upon it. You may write in a discovery fashion, start from a point and see where it goes. You may or may not have an outline to follow. YOu may do all the work ahead of time. Or you might research and acquire information beforehand or as you go.

Seed, or kernal writing is starting with an idea and filling it in, fleshing it out. I find it to be a step above rote writing. It's like Rote writing, except that you have a feeling for it, there is something beyond just starting and going for it. There is, an emotional element to it. Certainly rote writing can have all these elements too, but the difference is, with rote writing, you right no matter what and on demand. YOu go to work do your eight plus hours of research and writing and go home. Seed writing requires a feeling for the idea first. There is an emotional element that carries you along. Certain rote can gain an emotional element through the process but wheteher you have an emotive element in it or not, you have to be able to write it. No matter how you are feeling. Like digging a ditch. Seed writing requires something more to start, and to carry on. You can flip flop from Rote to Seed as you Seed write, but in the end, you have to have a feeling for it.

For Corridor writing, you conjure up a feeling for an idea so it has elements of Rote and Seed in it, but then you have a flash of insight that goes far along down a corridor with doors everywhere, maybe even in the floor and ceiling, some may just be windows. But you can see the path down a long ways from where you are going to start.

All this being said, when someone offers you a "great" idea ("Let's share the profits after you do all the work."), you are in the Rote mode of writing. In some cases, if it truly is a great idea, if you like the person, if you have affection for them (Love or lust can work wonders here), then it may evolve into a Seed idea and who knows, a Corridor even.

But my experience has been that 99% of these "great ideas" end up in the Rote pile. I don't have any investment in them. I didn't come up with it. When I DO come up with it, that is MY mind, making all the instant connections and it has a lot to do with who I am, with my history and experiences and knowledge. I've come up with great ideas that went no where on anyone else, but then I would write a great story from it and people would be amazed by it. But they didn't see where I was going in the beginning. What if I had offered THEM my "Great Idea"?

When I see a corridor to write, it can go further down a corridor than I can see. I'll need to write to the
end of my "vision" before I can see the rest of the corridor. Somtimes I can see the end, but frequently not. Much of the time I just "know" that I know there is a complete end at the, well, end. These feelings have panned out over time to be quite accurate and sometimes I end up in a place I never expected, or had any inkling that it existed. That is the discovery kind of writing for the most part.

Sometimes it's just that I have a great idea and end, but at some point I discover a better one, or more appropriate one. I dont' see that as discovery writing, though in hindsight, it does turn into discovery writing. I just don't see that that was what i was doing. Because I wasn't. DIscovery writing is starting with a feeling and having no idea where you are going and just writing what is logical and fun to you and you can end up with a truly great story that way.

The trouble with discovery writing is it can quite easily become overly complicated and you can get lost, or lose threads, or they can work themselves into connundrums. It hasn't happened in years, but I've had a few stories die that way. By the time you got to the end, there was just simply no fixing it. I've had to rip it apart and make a different story leaving the other by the wayside. Sometimes I've gone back years later and cannabalized it and come up with something useful, so actually it wasn't all to waste.

Writing in whatever form for you, as long as you enjoy it and as long as it gives the readers something useful, really is what matters. Write for yourself, but don't lose track of what is important. Whatever that is to you, that is.

Just writing for oneself is masturbation. So I find it annoying to hear "I don't write for the money, I write for myself." Say that to your lover when you are having sex sometime, see how much respect that gets you. Sure, write for your pleasure, but keep in mind the other things. A good writer does that. A better writer can write for others too. A great writer can pull it all together.

The January 2013 KDP Newsletter has a piece by Guy Kawasaki, Author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur - How to Publish a Book. He says: Write for the right reasons. Writing is an art form, and a book is an end in itself—don’t write a book solely because it is a means to an end. The good reasons to write a book are the desire to enrich people’s lives, to further a cause, to achieve an intellectual milestone, and to get something off your chest. The bad reasons are to make a lot of money or to increase your consulting or speaking business.

Some day I hope to be a great writer.

But who knows....

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