“Where do you get your ideas?” It’s the number one question I hear asked of authors at writers conferences. With good reason, unproven writers love to mine these answers for clues that might inspire their many hopes for publication, too.
In her classic book on writing, BIRD BY BIRD, Anne Lamott (and seriously, why have you not read this book?!) says she pictures a muppet-like character in the basement of her mind, diligently feeding her ideas. I like that image a lot. But for an editor, getting into the idea business can be tricky. There’s a fine line between telling an author what you wish you had found in your submission pile and hijacking the writing process. Who wants to work with a dictatorial editor?
Great editors opt for a more Socratic approach to manuscript development; that is to say, asking lots and lots of questions. It’s not the editor’s job to tell the author how to write her book, or what to write about, but to ask questions to drive the work’s improvement after the first draft is finished.
Leaving the author alone to find her way can be a difficult part of the job for all parties involved. Because ultimately, the best books are the ones that the author most wants to write –and that arduous journey to discovery must be taken alone. Ursula Nordstrom knew that well, as you can see in her note to Natalie Savage Carlson.
Please know that I am not trying to avoid my editorial responsibility but I think it is always unfortunate that an editor decides what an author should do next . . . I never want to forget that if Lewis Carroll had asked me whether or not he should bother writing about a little girl named Alice who fell asleep and dreamed that she had a lot of adventures down a rabbit hole, it would not have sounded awfully tempting to any editor. ~Dear Genius, edited by Leonard Marcus
If you’re looking for something interesting to write about, start with what interests you. Create a Pinterest board of topics you think are fascinating, re-read the books that made you want to be writer (or a better person). What are you curious about? What do you want to know how to do or better understand? See? Questions are the keys to unlocking all sorts of writing secrets. And the answers will drive your search to find something worth writing about.
And the best piece of advice when you’re idea hunting, “NEVER STARE AT A BLANK PAGE” (thank you again, Laini Taylor for that pearl of wisdom!), get the pen moving and see what you find down the rabbit hole.