I’m on a productivity message board, and one of the topics that frequently comes up is “How do you store your ideas?”  Everyone pops up with Evernote or OneNote.  Someone says they put them on a task list like Omni Focus.


I don’t save them.

It’s always quite shocking to the others.  They all say the same thing: They don’t get many ideas, so they have to save ALL of them.  Because they are all important.

I understand that.  I was there on my first novel.  I had this great idea for a mystery, start writing it…and then I got stuck.

I couldn’t figure out why I was stuck, so I figured that the problem was in the beginning and I began to rewrite the story.  Got stuck in the same place.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, a little voice kept saying that I should toss the story and start a different one.

But I didn’t have any other ideas.

Or, actually, I didn’t know how to come up with more ideas on demand.

When cowriter and I were close to breaking up, we were talking about a next project and got into a big disagreement about ideas.  I was coming up with some, and he kept shooting them down, saying “That won’t sell.”  Since we hadn’t written anything, how would he know?

But that’s the nature of the elusive idea to those who struggle to come up with them.  Everything–their entire success–rests on that idea.  The idea is what will make the book get published (not the story, the craft skills…right).

In the early days of the internet, there was a guy who was trying to either copyright or trademark several of his ideas for novels.  He thought it was inspired to do this, like no one else had every thought of doing this for an idea before.  The ideas were quoted…and well, they weren’t that good.  They were the low-hanging fruit ideas.  You know, the one where you write it, and as you finish the book, you pick up a book at the bookstore and it’s the same story!

But coming up with them is a skill that we’re really not taught.  Once you go out of the flights of fantasy as childhood, that ability seems to disappear, possibly because it’s not something that can be measured or graded.  But it is a skill that can be learned.

Dean Wesley Smith and Joanna Penn both have posts up today on ideas.