Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Where do you get those ideas for your books? by Jo Ann Brown

When people find out I’m a writer, and I’m celebrating the 30th anniversary of my first book this year and I’ve published over 100 books with a variety of pseudonyms since that initial book, the first question they ask is: “Where do you get your ideas?” Maybe they’ve seen the small bank I saw this spring in a bookstore window in England and thought that I just keep them in a box on my desk.
I hope the question about where I find my ideas isn’t quickly followed (not even giving me a chance to answer) with “I’ve got a great idea for a book, but I don’t have the time to write it. Do you want it? You write the book, and we’ll split the profits.” I’ve learned to smile sincerely and say that I’m grateful for their offer, but I’ve already got more ideas than I’ll have time to write. The response is either a knowing nod or disbelief.
And you know what? Both responses are correct.
I’ve always got ideas for future books whirling about in my head. Most writers do. The amazing thing is the future ideas always feel much more enticing than the current one in the work-in-progress, especially if I’m in the midst of the middle muddles section of the writing process. That part when all those story threads that looked so straightforward when I began the project now seem like a ball of yarn that’s been on the losing end of a kitten’s attention. Many of those ideas will eventually find their way into another book, but some just drift away and are best forgotten. Some writers keep an idea notebook, but I don’t. If an idea doesn’t have the power to stay and grow – it can’t remain just an idea; it has to become a more in-depth concept—then it never was, in my opinion, more than a whim. You know how I define a whim? Just something that seems like fun in passing, but doesn’t have enough depth to become anything real.
But, every once in a while, an idea comes to me as a gift from someone else. Usually it’s from a family member (especially my husband who’s my first reader and catches all the words I leave in or leave out in my rush to tell the story). My children grew up listening to a discussion of plot points around the supper table as my part of “How was your day today?” sharing that we did each night.
The second book of my Amish Spinster Club series is one of those books where the central idea for the book (and the title) was given to me during a dinner discussion with my husband. We still do the “How was your day today?” sharing even though the kids are grown and out on their own. I was excited about the heroine I had planned for the book—an Amish nanny in an Englisch home—
but I was still pondering the rest of the details. We actually were talking about the most recent releases from Love Inspired, and I mentioned how two were Amish romances and three were western settings and the last was a small town setting in the Midwest. With a laugh, my husband told me I should try to combine them all into one book. The Midwest book wouldn’t work because the series is set in northern New York. Therefore, he said my next book should be called The Amish Cowboy. He laughed, thinking it was a joke...but I thought, “Hmm....”
I’m sure every writer (or artist of any type) understands what that “Hmm....” means. It’s the sound of the wheels of the brain kicking into motion. Ideas soon were ricocheting through my head, and the story for book which eventually became The Amish Christmas Cowboy quickly gelled in my head.
It’s not the first time my family has given me ideas for books, and I hope it won’t be the last, because no matter how many ideas I have on my own...good ideas for books are always welcome here. I guess I need to look for a small box that says that. Hmm....


  1. What a great post! And I love the term "middle muddles." I know them so well--and you are exactly right--that's always when the bright, shiny new idea seems so enticing! Do you find that your stories change a lot from your original idea as you write? Or does your basic storyline tend to stay the same? In my case, my finished book may bear only a passing resemblance to the story germ that sparked it. Congratulations on the new book--I love the cover!

    1. Middle muddles came from a workshop I did years ago about plotting called "Beginning Blunders, Middle Muddles and Ending Errors." Middle muddles is the only term I still use.
      The stories definitely evolve as I write them. How can I know how my hero will react on page 186 when I'm on page 1? Sometimes the characters surprise me, but I've learned to follow them instead of trying to make them fit the synopsis I've written. I learned that lesson the hard way from trying to make them fit...and have the words slow to a standstill. Only when I give "into" them can I go on writing. After all, it is *their* story. LOL!

  2. Great post, Jo Ann. It truly is amazing how we come up with book ideas. Many ideas never pan out, but the ones that do, oh, what a rewarding feeling when you hold that book in your hands. Great book cover. The story sounds intriguing.

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