Monday, April 12, 2010

So Many Ideas, So Little Time

“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas, and throw the bad ones away."-Linus Pauling

Blogger friend and fellow writer, Alan Orloff, is in the middle of his Diamonds for the Dead World Blog Tour. I am honored and excited to be a stop on this fantastic tour. I'd recommend a visit to Alan’s blog for its entertainment value and for information about the future stops on his World Tour. I, for one, couldn’t resist clicking on a blog called A Million Blogging Monkeys. Now, without further ado, I’ll turn my blog over to Alan.

Thanks, Jane, for inviting me to guest blog. I hope your blog readers enjoy today’s “Ride.”

I think I'm like a lot of writers--I seem to have story ideas oozing from every pore. Unfortunately, like most people, my time is finite. So how do I determine which ideas to spend my precious time on?

Sometimes I wish the ideas got assigned, like high school writing projects. (Give me 1500 words on why Gatsby would have made a good modern-day accountant. And use complete sentences!) At least that way, I could put any doubt about the idea behind me and start cranking out the words.

No, freedom of choice has to rear its ugly head.

Before I run an idea through my gauntlet of criteria, I need to examine my goals. Different goals demand different criteria. If I'm writing for my own enjoyment or if I'm contemplating a short story, I won't care as much about writing something that won't "go anywhere."

But let's say I want to write a novel that (hopefully) will sell to a traditional publisher (and be successful). A worthy goal.

I ask the following questions about each idea. If I get a "yes" at every turn, then the idea stays alive.

Do the characters interest me? I'm going to be spending six months to a year with these people--I want them to be likeable (or, if they're not likeable, at least be interesting). Imagine spending nine months trapped in a dungeon with a blowhard cousin--ugh!

Is the concept/premise/hook clever/engaging/engrossing? Dullness stinks. There, I've said it.

Has it been done before? It has to either be a fresh concept, or a fresh twist on an old concept. Same old/same old might be easy to write, but it won't stand out among the thousands of manuscripts I'll be competing against. I want this thing to sell!

Will it have broad appeal? Again, I want this book to be successful, and the more people who might be interested in it, the better. Why narrow the potential market from the beginning? (Don't worry – if you’re intent on shooting yourself in the foot, there will be plenty of chances to do that later!)

Can I tell the story in 75 - 90K words? Market considerations intercede again.

Is it something I'd like to read? If it isn't, why bother? (Of course, by extension, if I'd like to read it, there must be others out there who would, too. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Is it something my agent would like to read/represent? What good is an awesome horror novel sitting on your desk if your agent doesn't really like horror? I ask myself this every day as I look at the awesome horror novel sitting on my desk.

Is the research required “doable”? I'd like to write a book about exploring the depths of the ocean or exploring African jungles. But, well, I can't swim and I'm afraid of lions. Cross those ideas off the list.

Okay. I’ve asked the tough questions and weeded out the weaklings. Of the surviving ideas, how do I choose?

There's only one way.

I go with my gut.

Thank you, Alan. I tend to jump willy-nilly into a writing project, but next time I'm going to take a few minutes and ask myself those questions.

How do you decide on which project you want to tackle next?

Alan Orloff's debut mystery, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, was published this month by Midnight Ink. The first in his new series, KILLER ROUTINE - A Last Laff Mystery, featuring Channing Hayes, a stand-up comic with a tragic past, will be out Spring 2011 (also from Midnight Ink). For more info, visit

By the way, Diamonds for the Dead is available from your favorite book store and, of course, through

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Linus Pauling, Alan Orloff, Diamonds for the Dead,


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Oh! I get to visit 2 friends on the same blog!

Great points here, Alan. I'm tweeting this....

Mystery Writing is Murder

Anonymous said...

Jane - Thanks for hosting this stop on Alan's Blog Tour; isn't he a great guest?!?

Alan - I like those questions you ask yourself as you get thinking about a project. I think the one that strikes me the most is whether or not the premise/characters/etc. interest you. If the author isn't even interested in the project, there's no way that readers will be. When the author is enthusiastic, that comes through.

Elspeth Futcher said...

Excellent questions, Alan! What happens if you really love the idea or the characters, but some of the answers to the other questions are 'no'? Do you write it anyway? Or do you tweak it until you get yeses across the board?

Laura S. said...

When I sort through my ideas, I always ask myself how I can twist the idea unlike all the other similar ideas out there. If I can't come up with something fresh, then I know it's got to go.

Great post!

Raquel Byrnes said...

Thats true about free choice not always being fun. It so hard to whittle down my ideas, but I guess thats better than staring at a blank page.

Alan Orloff said...

Elizabeth - Thanks! And thanks for the tweet. We're lucky--we have lots of great blogosphere friends!

Margot - Thanks for the kind words (your twenty bucks is in the mail). I agree--you definitely can tell when the author is "into it," or conversely, just phoning it in.

Thanks, Karen! Hearing how other people do it is one of the prime reasons for blog reading, imho.

Elspeth - Thanks! You bring up a good point (dilemma?). I've got a couple great ideas (I think so, anyway) for stories, but I don't think they have as much chance as seeing a bookstore shelf as some others. So I haven't written them. Although I did do an extensive outline for one, so when the market turns for that genre...

Laura - Thanks! Yes, the freshness "smell" test is important. Luckily, the twists are usually only limited by our imaginations. I mean, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies !!!!

Alan Orloff said...

Raquel - Yes, having "too many" ideas is kind of a curse :), but I agree, it's better than staring at the blinking cursor that just blinks, blinks, blinks, mocking you and your mistaken belief that you have something to say, something that someone else besides your family wants to read. "What makes you so special," the blinking cursor seems to say, "what makes you so hot, why, you can't even decide..."

Oops, sorry, got carried away.

Tamika: said...

Thanks Alan and Jane- great interview.

The criteria is strict for spending time producing a novel length piece of work.

I have another idea brewing and I can't wait to develop it a little more, this one is a keeper.

Terry Odell said...

I know what you mean. Right now I have 2 unsold manuscripts, one a spin-off of two other books. One's published, the other will be released in a year. The second is a new direction, but also has spin-off potential. Do I tackle the 'next' book in either of those series, or start a brand new project? I really like the worlds I've created with the two limbo books. Can I find the inspiration to start something totally different?

Patricia Stoltey said...

You're much more organized about your choices than I am, Alan. I just go with whatever idea is nagging at me the most.

Helen Ginger said...

It's about all you can do - go with your gut, write a fabulous book, and send it out to the reader-sphere. See what happens.

Straight From Hel

Alan Orloff said...

Tamika - Thanks! Yes, sometimes ideas do better with a little percolation. Just make sure to take notes so you don't forget anything!

Terry - Sounds like you're busy! Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.

Patricia - LOL. If I went with what nagged me the most, I'd always be writing about my kids. (Kids, if you read this, I'm just joking. Seriously.)

Helen - Yes. I forget to mention the "writing a fabulous book" part. It's essential to success. And so is the "see what happens" part. If you write a book and keep it in your drawer...then who knows what might have been.

joe doaks-Author said...

These are nicely made points, Alan. But, I'm wondering, why are you afraid of lions? Clowns I understand...snort, giggle, but gee lions? By golly, there has to be a story idea there somewhere?

Best, Galen.

P.S. Hi, Jane!

Anonymous said...

"It has to either be a fresh concept, or a fresh twist on an old concept." I agree. Why write rehashed material. Its exciting to find that unique niche that is fresh and jopefully people will want to read.

Stephen Tremp

Alan Orloff said...

Galen - Ever since I saw the talking lion in the Wizard of Oz, they psyche me out. Don't even get me started on flying monkeys.

Stephen - It IS exciting to find something new to write about--exciting to write it and exciting to think about others reading it.

Jane - Thanks so much for hosting me today! I enjoyed it. You've got a great bunch of blog readers offering some excellent comments.

Anonymous said...

Great post - great questions to think about here.
Thanks Alan ... and Jane :)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Oh, great post! I love these questions and use them often. :)

Thanks for sharing~

Grammy said...

Hey, Y'all,
I have never written a book, but, man, I've read a mighty big heap of them, some good, some bad, and it looks like Alan's new book is a really good one. i look forward to reading it.

Alan Orloff said...

Michelle - Thanks for stopping by! It would be nice to just write whatever I felt like, but...

Nancy - Thanks! It's bad when the answers change halfway through the first draft. Then what??

Ruby - Thanks for the kind words about the book. It made it through the question/criteria gauntlet. I'll let you know if it achieved the "successful" part in a year or so :)

Lorel Clayton said...

You must get a different agent for that awesome horror novel. I *love* awesome horror novels.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Thank you, Alan, for being such a great guest. Thanks also to all you who stopped by and to those who left a comment.

Arlee Bird said...

These are important questions that if answered thoughtfully and wisely can help make the writing process go much more smoothly.

Blogging From A to Z April Challenge

Helen Ginger said...

I usually choose the project that won't get out of my head. The characters are talking to me, popping up in my dreams. That's when I sit down and start considering whether it's viable.

Straight From Hel

The Old Silly said...

Excellent points, Alan. Thanks for sharing with us, you and Jane!

Marvin D Wilson

Charmaine Clancy said...

Good points! It's tempting to make excuses for our manuscripts that don't fit the requirements, but yoru suggestions are the way to go!

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world