A frequent question I get from interviewers is: where do your ideas come from? How did you get the idea for a book?
To tie into this, David Barr Kirtley and I were once wondering about those people who come up to you at a book signing. They kind of look nervously around and say something like “I have this idea for a book, and I was thinking, if I gave you the idea, and you wrote it, we could share the profits…”
For many authors, and for me in particular this is an insane proposition. The writing is the hard work, not the ideas. Ideas come. They’re fucking everywhere, man. David pointed out to me that it was because, for many people, they get one idea. They lead uncreative lives, don’t read much, and a single idea comes to them and that’s their one big idea that they hold and treasure and walk around with.
I’ve been a lot gentler to those people since David pointed that out, explaining that I already have more ideas in a file than I will ever have time to write in my life. My problem is choosing which ones I get to write.
How do they come? Here’s an example. I was reading a blog post (that I can’t find now) by Roger Ebert where he quoted the following:
Truman Capote, I said, walked down Fifth Avenue once with Marilyn Monroe, and she said, “Watch this.” And for one block she wasn’t Marilyn Monroe and for the next block she was and he couldn’t see what she was doing but for the first block she was totally ignored and the second block she caused a riot.
And right away I thought, that’s because Marilyn Monroe turned on her fairy glamour for the next block. That’s what she was. And she died because she was a fairy playing a star in the human world, and she was hunted down and killed for it.
And even though that thought popped into my head, it’s only a fragment. It’s not a story, it’s just a fragment. Something I’ll stick in a file so I won’t forget it, but I don’t have time to write or play with any further. I have files and files bursting with just little snippets and URLs with comments attached like this, because the ideas are floating around everywhere.
The hard work is taking the above and making a fun, entertaining story out of it that people will enjoy reading. That’s where the work is, not the initial flash of the idea.