We tend to get a little deluded about just what an idea is. Not surprising, with marketers and lifestyle gurus trying to sell you the idea of get-rich-quick and easy Nirvana. Before you get excited about that great idea you had that will change your life, let me offer a bit of a reality check I like to call, “What An Idea Isn’t.”
What An Idea Isn’t
I developed my first novel after having a particularly good dream at the age of 13. The first time I finished my first novel, it was 1994. I had just returned from a month in Nova Scotia where I’d parlayed 200 pages into 600 (double-spaced—the word count was around 120,000) and had a first draft. Then, I spent four months writing a third of the story I developed from that idea into an actual novel.
I self-published a reworked and re-edited version of the book in 2002 through one of the first “print-on-demand” outfits, the Great Unpublished, which became Global Book, then Booksurge, and which is now in fact the Amazon-owned Createspace. This was mostly, actually, due to the prohibitive cost of photocopying the manuscript or printing it out at home for those who wanted to read it, and for submitting it to traditional publishers. Oddly, and charmingly, not only are a few of those still floating around on the net (one reseller was asking $120 at one point!), someone contacted me a few years ago about a copy they’d found at a used bookstore that a gentleman of my acquaintance had printed and coil-bound for himself at a Kinkos. It’s not just on the Internet where you can find everything eventually. . .
By 2012, I had a new, much stronger novel, transformed from a third person to a first person narrative to better suit what I intended for the rest of the “Blood & Magic” series, new graphics, a greater adherence to my plans for future books in the series, and a new campaign.
That is a novel. It may have begun as an idea, but that was only the beginning (and a very small part of) the process.
An Idea isn’t precious.
Everyone has ideas. Put me on the spot and I’ll come up with as many ideas as you give me minutes. Most of them will be okay, or questionable, or a little red-wine-inspired awful. One may be terrific, but the majority will be disposable. An idea is cheap. Or rather, it’s free. It takes little effort to tease out of your brain, and it has no monetary or intrinsic value. It barely exists, and can be snuffed out by another thought coming along behind.
An Idea isn’t your ticket to wealth and fame.
Ten times a week (more if I’m around certain venues, like a comic book convention), I hear, “I have the most awesome idea. It’s going to make me millions.” It won’t. Never. Unless, maybe, you’re J.J. Abrams and tell someone who has the power to do something about it, “Hey—I have an idea about a bunch of people who get stranded by a plane crash on a desert island.” And yes, the idea leads somewhere, but not because a great idea that automatically added zeroes to a bank account.
An Idea isn’t unique on its own.
Someone comes up with a great idea. Around the world, maybe even at the same time, other people are coming up with exactly the same idea. The idea is just the starting point, a dot, one dimension of what might develop. But until you go beyond the idea, everyone’s dot looks pretty much the same.
An Idea isn’t the same as a story.
A screenplay is the framework for a film. It’s the blueprint that allows a lot of other professionals to craft something bigger and more concrete. Having an idea isn’t the same as having a story to tell. A concept isn’t even a blueprint. It’s an inkling, an iota of inspiration. A story is a sequence of events; an idea is a moment; like in a snapshot, you can’t glean much information about what’s outside the frame, what came before, or how it all ends.
An Idea isn’t the hard part.
Even more than ten times a week, I hear, “I have a great story. You should write it for me.” No, I shouldn’t. You should. You haven’t given me the gift of something precious: you’ve thrown out the first step in an enormous process by the end of which the original idea is probably the only thing you never sweated over.
But don’t be discouraged. If there’s anything that labouring twenty (cough) years over my first novel has taught me, it’s that it does get easier, and you do learn to work harder and better, and those ideas are a key and a gateway to something worthwhile.
An idea is not precious, or hard, or a marketable commodity. But it’s a start, and once you get started, all you need is to do the real work, and turn it into something that is.