Generating story ideas can be like pulling teeth – nothing but rivers of blood and tears. Or you can use these author tips I picked up at Book Con 2016.
Naomi Novik recommends you write a piece of each new idea that comes to you, even just a first paragraph. The more you write, the more ideas will come. Sarah J. Maas looks for stories that move her without thinking about what’s trendy or marketable. She says, “I have to write what’s in my heart and soul. Otherwise, at the end of the day, the story is soulless…” And Pierce Brown gets ideas from exploring what happens after his favorite childhood stories end.
Sounds a little like fan fiction to me, but that’s cool because Novik, Maas, and Victoria Aveyard all started out writing fan fiction. They suggest you try it as a way to learn the rules of storytelling and world-building. Aveyard used fanfiction.net to write her Lord of the Rings fan fic as a teenager, and it’s a great place for you to start too. Will you write embarrassingly bad prose there? Probably. But what doesn’t drown you will make you stronger. Laini Taylor‘s favorite/most embarrassing line from her high school writing describes curtains: “…they were straining outwards like doves with their tail feathers pinned to God’s lapel.” To this day it reminds her not to “over-write.”
Once you have an idea, Scott Sigler suggests outlining. He spent three to four months creating a 45-page outline for his upcoming book. Novik, however, is a “discovery writer” and doesn’t outline much. It keeps her excited to see where the characters take her, even though it means a lot of editing later on.
Speaking of, Justin Cronin believes “the computer is a trap for editing. What if I move this here? What if I move that there?” Instead, he gets out his notes on his current draft and then re-writes the whole book while referencing them. That’s hardcore. Brown suggests sticking to a routine and not letting “writer’s guilt” get in the way. “The only way to get rid of writer’s guilt is to get the words out in the morning.” Otherwise, he gets too distracted and doesn’t write much that day, if at all.
Maas listens to music while writing as part of her process, and has extensive playlists for each of her books. Which should come in handy because, according to Cronin, “Being a writer often looks strange to the outside world. There is a lot of sitting and staring.” Unless you’re Naomi Novik, then there’s a lot of walking because you use a treadmill desk.
But the best advice the authors had for aspiring writers:
Anybody else sense a theme? So get out there and finish your gosh darn manuscript, writers! And take your arm-floaties, because those bloody-tear rivers can get rough. And salty. So very salty.
Sarah Parker-Lee is managing co-editor of Kite Tales, reviews books for Dwarf+Giant, & writes for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs. She also writes YA alt. history & sci-fi. Her humor blog, Dogs and Zombies: A Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, shambles towards your tasty brains Summer-ish 2016. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel