Don’t Be An Idea Person

Filed in Writing Craft — July 1, 2024

There are two types of wannabe writers. And don’t come at me for using the word wannabe; I was a wannabe for more than a decade, so I’m qualified to talk about this!

So, there are two types of wannabe writers:

  • The people who have an idea but don’t want to actually write it.
  • The people who want to write but think they don’t have an idea.

And again, let me clarify here that I’m not throwing shade: I was in one of these categories for years.

Let’s talk about the first wannabe writer:

The “I have a great idea!” person.

I cannot even tell you how many people I know who’ve told me they have a great idea for a book. Their excitement when they tell me about it is palpable, and I love that for them.

My response to these people is always the same:

“You’re so excited about the idea! You should write it.”

Immediately, their excitement dims, and I can’t even blame them. Having an idea is fun and easy, but writing a book is daunting and hard.

Honestly? Most of these types of wanna be writers never type a single word of their idea. Some of them have even suggested that I should write their idea, as though it’s some sort of gift to receive an idea that took them moments to generate, and then I get to do the heavy lifting that takes weeks, months, or even years.

If that sounds harsh, it’s because these types of interactions frustrate me. As though we writers—the actual writers, putting in the sweat and tears and endless hours—are just waiting for someone to bestow us with an idea.

And then there’s the second type of wannabe writer:

“I would be a writer if I could only come up with a good idea!”

This was me, from my teen years (probably before!), all the way up to age 28 or so.

I wanted to be a writer more than anything, and I was relatively confident that I could be a good writer … but I put it off for years thinking I just needed the right idea. An idea so fabulous that the words would just spill forth, and I’d finally become the writer I was meant to be.

And sometimes, when I did get an idea, I’d start to try to write it, find out that it was almost unbearably hard, and then shelve the project. “Well, guess that wasn’t the idea.”

(By the way, I cringe even remembering those days, much less confessing them to the world!)

I have bad news for both types of wannabes:

Coming up with the idea—even a great idea—is the easy part.

Don’t believe me?

How many people do you know who have had an idea of some kind? I’m willing to bet it’s everyone you know. Ideas are all around us, all the time. They come to us in the shower, on the commute, while we’re daydreaming at work, when we read a quirky news story and think, “there’s a book there!”

Now. Ask yourself how many people you know have actually written a book. The number probably dwindles significantly. Writing a book is a whole different beast. It requires dedication, discipline, and a willingness to put in the hard work.

Still think I’m underselling the importance of ideas? Try this exercise:

Make a list of your ten favorite romance novels, and then summarize their plots in a single sentence.

I’m willing to bet you’re going to see a lot of overlap in the story ideas:

  • A duke needs to marry for duty but falls in love with someone unsuitable.
  • A woman moves to a small town and falls for the quiet, local heartthrob.
  • A woman starts a new job/project and has to work with the man who broke her heart.
  • A fantasy character falls in love with a different type of fantasy character, even though the love is forbidden.
  • Two best friends find themselves falling in love.

They sound generic when I write them like that, but I’ve just summarized the plot of five recent viral, New York Times bestselling romances.

What made those books take off wasn’t the idea. It was the execution by the writers.

Ideas are important, and yes, I do believe that there are some truly exceptional ideas out there (Hunger Games, anyone?).

But even great ideas are merely the starting point. The real magic happens when you take that idea and start putting words on the page. When you develop it, shape it, and bring it to life through the actual process of writing.

If I’m being really honest here, the idea behind my very first book? Not that great. What made it great (or at least good enough that my agent signed with me, and a publisher bought it) is that I shifted my mindset from “I’m waiting for a great idea” to “I’m going to finish a book, no matter what.”

I sent that manuscript out on query to agents, and the first thing my agent ever said to me when she replied was NOT, “Omg, what a fresh idea!”

Probably because it was not a particularly fresh idea. But it was a finished book. And my agent’s actual first words to me were, “You have a fantastic voice. Is this book still available?”

I was wildly flattered, but in hindsight I realize it wasn’t that I had raw talent shining through. It’s that I worked really, really hard to take a basic idea about a woman who meets a man in Vegas and then he becomes her boss, and turn it into something special.

If you want to be a romance writer, be a romance writer.

Pick an idea, any idea, and just start.

Don’t get hung up on whether it’s the right idea, and don’t sit around waiting for inspiration or something unique and fresh.

Don’t be an idea person.

Be a writer.

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