The Right (Write!) Idea by Joy Preble

How do I know if an idea is the right idea to sustain a book? The answer varies for each project but usually it's a few things. Does the idea itself feel like something I'd like to read? Does it feel like something I can spend months immersed in? Do characters come to mind, and do they seem to fit the idea? Can I plot it out with basic story beats? Do I feel that excitement and passion needed to sustain focus?

When I'm working on a new book, these are the questions I ask myself. Why this book? Why me as its author? Why these characters? Why now? How does the book fit into the progression of my body of work as a whole? I think especially once you've got an established career, you definitely want a book that is going to stretch you, going to take you that next step in your craft.

So I plot out the basic beats. I brainstorm my characters and try to get a grip on them. I write 50 pages or so and see how I feel. When an idea is fresh and shiny, all of that comes pretty quickly. If it doesn't, that's my answer anyway. This is not the book for me. Not the right voice. Not the right plot. Not characters who will flesh out to be real.

Sometimes it's trickier. The book I just turned in to my agent, took months longer than anything else I've ever written. But the characters and the basic themes and ideas never left me. I always knew what I wanted to write at its core. I always knew that I loved these characters, that they felt real and alive to me. So I was willing, even when it was a struggle and there were doubts, to keep going. Just because it's the right idea, doesn't always mean it will come easily.

Sometimes the right idea comes at the wrong time. It's the story you need to tell, the story that needs telling, but you're a step or two ahead of when the publishing industry is ready for it. I've had that happen and it's frustrating but it's just part of the game.

I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert's book BIG MAGIC, and it's book about creativity that I highly recommend for writers. Gilbert believes that ideas go where they're going to be successfully used. If you delay too long about using something, it may float elsewhere. Those are the crazy moments when you read about a book deal for a story you've delayed writing for too long, and boom, someone else has snatched it from the ether and sold it.  So if I love a story idea, I try to move on it and make it my own.

Right now, I'm sorting my way through three or four shiny ideas that  have been piling up while I struggled to finish the book of my heart. I'll let you know which one ends up working!


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