Some people call it a muse, while others say they get their inspiration from everyday things: people or events that catch their imagination in just the right way. Sometimes it’s something as simple as reading a story that ends differently than you’d wanted it to, sparking your imagination into how it should have gone, if the pen was in your hand[i].
Wherever your story idea emerges from, the next (and sometimes worst) part can be determining if the idea is worth keeping. I don’t mean jotting down a note to yourself about an idea – that’s never a waste of time.
What I’m referring to is your process for knowing which ideas are keepers, and which are simply passing thoughts of “genius”[ii] that needed to get out but (probably) won’t bother you again.
My personal method is to write down the original idea or scene, and then leave it for a day. If I come back and my brain has percolated on that idea and produced more ideas, I’ll try to work out the ending of the story.[iii] However, if there isn’t anything else to add, I’ll dump it and pull up one of my (eight) current drafts and try to work on them instead, channeling that energy to write into a more constructive pathway.
Oh, and those little pieces of paper? If you’re still not convinced that the idea should be trashed, label a small box “Story Seeds” and dump them in there. I put a sticky note on the stack and look back at them later.[iv] Then when you do your version of spring cleaning, take an hour to read over those ideas and see if anything has lingered at the back of your mind in the meantime. You might decide that one of those seeds was promising after all.
Katie signing off.
[i] Most of the time this results in fanfiction, of which I am an enthusiastic proponent.
[ii] Those fleeting ideas feel like genius when they hit, but if you’re stuck after ten minutes of trying to expand it into a viable plot, it probably isn’t as amazing as it tried to tell you it was.
[iii] If there isn’t a clear ending, it’s not always the trash bin for that idea, but more than 80% to 90% of my passing ideas aren’t worth spending the time trying to construct a full story out of them.
[iv] Usually months later, since I get busy and forget about it.