One of the most common, if not THE most common question writers get asked is “Where do you get your ideas?”
I know this, not because anyone has ever asked me, but because I’ve listened to a lot of interviews where long running, successful writers say they hear that question time and time again.
In a flourish of pre-emptive optimism, here is my answer:
Sometimes a new idea will start with a character. Sometimes it will start with a plot. Sometimes it will start with a bit of dialog, or a specific scene. Sometimes all I have is the basic premise.
I’m currently sitting on about fifty ideas which are no more than 2/3 ready to begin. Some have only one of the above, some have all but one.
I usually have a digital recorder with me, and a second one on the nightstand. When I get an idea I record it, then go through the recordings later when I can get them into the computer.
How I keep track of it all:
Spreadsheets and folder trees. In the writing folder on my computer I have folders for my stuff, not my stuff, and a few others.
The only stand alone file in “My Stuff” is my ideas spreadsheet. This is an Excel file with one tab for each “world” I’ve created something for. Each Idea is listed with a working title, the proposed length, the phase it’s in, and a summary.
The phases start with Idea, then move on to planning, In Progress, Editing, Submitted, with date, Revision, and Complete. There are a few others, Such as “Frankenplot” which means it’s no longer a viable story, but bits are good and can be reused in other things.
Also, in My Stuff I have folders for each genre. Mystery, Horror, SF, Fantasy, and Other.
In Mystery, I have a few different worlds where certain characters can be found in more than one story. In these cases, I have a folder for each world, and one for the stories that exist as stand-alones.
In the world of my private eye, I have three main sets of characters. There is one sheet which serves as the master time line for all of them, then each has set has a folder. In each folder is a folder named for the title of the story or book. In each of those folders is the actual story, along with spreadsheets for the timelines, other research stuff, and the most important thing of all, the brainstorming page.
The brainstorming page is just what it sounds like. I use the outline feature to write out an idea, then all the questions that idea sparks, then I try to answer all of those questions. When I finally make the choice about what to do, I highlight the ones that matter, but I don’t get rid of any of the others. I never know when they may come in handy.