Friday, March 13, 2009

The trouble with IDEAS

I'm feeling peevish. I have a cold (again) and as I was running down the comments section of Nathan Bransford's blog, I saw an anonymous comment that didn't improve my mood.*

Nathan mentioned Janet Reid's Query Shark and a new query critiquing blog. Anonymous commented that such sites were a great way for people to get free book ideas by modifying, or even stealing, concepts they saw in a query. 

There are many different kinds of ideas. 

Eating chocolate is a good 'idea'. 

Finally realizing how to write that crucial scene in your MS is an 'Idea'. 

But it seems A is thinking of an IDEA, that IDEA = story.

That's what peeves me. Stories are not just IDEAs or Ideas or ideas. (I've typed 'idea' so many times the spelling is looking all wonky.  But I digress.) Yes, a story begins with an idea (any variety), and a good one, too. 

But a story happens when some shmuck actually gives that IDEA a world to live in, gives that world texture and sound and smell. The author then fills that world with characters whose lives extend beyond the timeline of the story. The author uses her own self- her soul, her heart- to give that story a voice and cadence that communicates the world she created. 

And then she starts editing. She listens to critiques from people who clearly don't understand what she's trying to do. After she eats a bit of chocolate, she realizes they have a point. So she revises her story again, and again, and again. 

We haven't even gotten to the part about finding an agent or editor.

Notice how I stopped writing about IDEA a few paragraphs back? Because IDEAs have little to do with actually writing a story. Two folks could have the same idea (even IDEA) and come up with two different stories because their worlds are different, their voices are different, and their craftsmanship is different.

So please, don't tell you me you're a writer that hasn't actually written anything- but that's okay because you have an IDEA. Please don't worry about someone stealing your IDEA. 

Worry ... think ... sweat ... about writing. That's your story.

*Dear Anonymous, if, for some reason, you wander over to this humble blog, please know that I'm merely using your comment as the stepping stone to a rant about a larger frustration. You may be a decent person and a stupendous writer, and I freely acknowledge that this rant may not reflect you in any way. I sure hope it doesn't... 


Michelle said...

Have you seen the movie Mona Lisa Smile? At the end, all the girls in the art class do the same Van Gogh Sunflowers paint by number kit. None of the paintings are alike, even though they all started with the same kit, same paint, same instructions.

At some point we've all attended a writing class and been given the same assignment as the rest of the class. No one ever wound up with the same story. Not even close.

Lisa said...

Sarah, you're absolutely right. I always find it a bit odd when people ask published authors where they get their inspiration or ideas, as if that were the hard part of writting. I always want to say, "Honey, if you don't have inspiration, why do you bother?"

Ideas are easy. Ideas float through the air like dandelion seeds. It's what you do with the idea, how you knead it and shape it, that's important.

Merry Monteleone said...

This seems to be a view particular to new writers and non-writers. I've heard a number of non-writers say things like, I have this great idea, I just need someone to write it for me... Just shake your head and walk away - you can explain it to them, but they won't get it.

New writers can and often do improve. They just have more to learn. It's a pretty widespread fear in newer writers that their 'idea' will be stolen by an agent or editor... it'll be given to another writer to write and they're cut out of the millions :-)

If they stick with it and study writing and learn from other writers and all of the stuff we've been doing since starting this journey, they usually get over that kind of thinking... at least, if they're any good at the actual writing.

I love Nathan's blog and Nathan in general. But I don't always stick around for the comment section anymore. Not his fault, but he has a large following and with that comes a lot of people who want to be writers (notice I said want to be, rather than want to write) a lot of young and newer writers, and a lot of anon. snipers.

I've gotten annoyed there myself on occasion.

Sarah said...

Michelle, never saw MLS, just bits and pieces. Even the lost-past writing exercises Steph had us do showed the different ways an idea could grow.

I love Nathan, Merry! And he responded very well to A.

I think my post had more to do with understanding why idea comments irritate me. When you're working your hardest to improve your writing and run into folks who believe that's the easiest part...

You're right, good writers learn soon learn different. I'm just spoiled because I'm around folks who work so hard at improving.

Michelle said...

Sarah, remember how we noticed that there was a complainer at most of the writing conferences? The guy who raised his hand and said something along the lines of, "if the editor is going to change this much of it, why should I bother getting it perfect before I send it? And for that matter, why is this author published if she submitted with all these problems?" The IDEA people are the same people. The sour grapes people.