1.19.23 Why ‘where do you get your ideas’ is such a strange question to ask writers

Today on Facebook, this photo popped up in my memories section:

It’s from the SFF convention Arisia, which I attend pretty much every year, in 2017. While I’m blanking on the author on the left (my apologies, I’ll fix that if I remember her name, because she’s awesome) (edit: It’s Heather Albano, thanks!), the others (2nd from l.) are Rebecca Slitt of Choice of Games, Kendra L. Saunders, Rona Gofstein and Angi Shearstone. Over the years, I’ve seen Rona many times — and she’s been a huge champion of my work — thanks to Broad Universe, the networking organization I owe a lot of my success to; Angi Shearstone (r.) I’ve seen less often. She’s a terrific artist, who came to our house for three days to paint a beautiful mural.

But I share this picture today because during the 2023 Arisia, Kendra came up in conversation with my friend L.J. I couldn’t recall Kendra’s name at that time — I’ve only ever met her that once at Arisia in 2017, when she was selling her Dating an Alien Pop Star novel at the BU table — but I recalled that she’d had an important influence on the type of book I wrote next: The book that became Tune in Tomorrow.

As I’ve talked about before, Tune in Tomorrow was originally a game idea I floated with Rebecca not long after this convention. Choice of Games is a text-based game company, and she frequently buzzed around the table encouraging writers to pitch her game ideas. I’d sent a long list and the one that grabbed her was about an actress being hired on a soap opera. No fantasy element at the time. I went through some of the paces with the construction of the game, but as we got deeper into it things became more difficult for me — so I bowed out, and the story was still mine. I began thinking more about the story, and at the advice of my agent to consider doing something different than I’d written before, I believe I remembered Kendra’s book. Alien Pop Star had sold really, really well at the BU table that year. It had a clear, eye-catching cover (I can’t recall if she had the two sequels there yet or not), it was bubbly with pop culture (as was Kendra) and she had a wonderful time talking about it to people.

I think that’s where the seed for turning a onetime game into a funny pop culture novel came from. I wanted to write the book I wanted to write, but I also felt like something light and entertaining would sell well. So I decided to write funny. I decided to be shameless about it, along with referring to the pop culture I’ve been steeping in for years. And thus Tune in Tomorrow was crafted, created, born and finally — published. I owe a lot to these wonderful ladies!

All of which is to say that the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” — while frequently asked of writers — is not a great one. Writers are magpies, you see. We gather shiny things, seeds for the future, and we hoard them in our nests. When we write, we pick and choose what feels right for the story from all the life we’ve lived and the imagination we can weave together. Sure, it’s true that some ideas are easily traced to real-life events, but even when we use our own lives for parts of stories that’s only a partial truth. We’ve been squirreling away all sorts of influences and seeds and shiny … just for the exact moment when they work in a story.

The real answer to “Where do you get your ideas?” is “anywhere and everywhere.” Better to ask about the story behind the story: “How did this story come to pass?”

But beware: That answer is not always found in a neat, tidy package. Turns out that sometimes we aren’t even aware when we’re collecting those seeds for the future.

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  1. Saralyn J Richard on 1/19/23 at 9:54 am

    Wonderful post. I especially like the comparison of authors to magpies.

    • Randee Dawn on 1/19/23 at 2:18 pm

      Thanks! I may have snagged that reference from somewhere else, but it’s quite true! (and nicer than saying “crows)