When an idea strikes you, what do you do with it? Write it down in detail or as it jumps out at you? Or do you make an outline of it?
To some extent, it depends on how strongly the idea strikes me. If an idea pops into my head and I get excited about it right away, I write it down as soon as possible, because I’m afraid of losing it. If it’s an idea that seems kind of interesting but isn’t totally unexpected, I often let it just sit in my head for a bit, to see if I come upon an angle that makes me more excited, or a particular element starts to stand out to me. I don’t write every idea I have down; there are lots that seem neat for an instant, and then quickly fade as I realize they’re derivative or don’t lead anywhere.
I don’t like to push ideas too fast. Once I’m excited, all sorts of details will usually jump out at me automatically, and I’ll write those down too. But I don’t make myself brainstorm or start working out logistics yet. I just see where my mind wanders to, as it’s playing with the idea. Don’t want to stifle that innate creativity by worrying too much about what the best approach is too early.
A good idea will keep coming back to me, without me even trying. I’ll write it down one day, and then a few days or a week or a month later, my mind will happen to wander back to it, and a few more elements will occur to me, and a little later I’ll get some more, and eventually it starts to feel like a whole story. It’s usually around then, when a sense of the beginning, end, and turning points in the middle have come to me, that I start to focus on it more methodically. I purposely poke at the gaps between the events I know will happen, seeing what I can come up with to in the blanks. I imagine how the book’s opening scenes might play out. If the brainstorming’s going well, at that point I’d try to write a scene-by-scene outline, which would be the last step (and test of the idea’s workability) before I actually write the story.
But people say “Ideas are cheap,” and that’s true. I get a lot of ideas, and the vast majority of them die either before I bother to write them down, or before they spin out enough material that I think they could produce a whole book. What’s really important is finding ideas that both excite me enough that I want to work with them for the years the writing, revising, and publishing process will take, and that I think will be saying something at least a little bit new amid all the books already out there.