Please welcome New York Times bestselling author Kate White to the blog! Her new novel, Eyes on You, went on sale Tuesday, and is a riveting psychological suspense in which a media star must battle a malevolent enemy who may be disturbingly close to her. Today, she wrote us a guest post on where writers find their inspiration.
One of the most common questions I get asked when I’m giving a talk somewhere is, “Where do you find ideas for your novels?”
I often suspect that the person asking is a closet writer who has met with frustration in this regard. And I so relate to the question personally. From the time I was a young girl I was dying to write fiction but for years my brain refused to spit out any ideas that seemed worthwhile to me. Sometimes I ended up with the start of a story but it refused to advance more than a few inches.
Picasso once said that “to know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing,” but that concept never really worked or me. I couldn’t write without knowing what I wanted to write. Over time I began to worry that I wasn’t destined to be a writer. But two concepts changed everything for me. I stumbled onto both of them around the same time. These two tricks have guaranteed that the ideas keep coming.
1) Put a question out to the universe. I learned this strategy from Laura Day, the author of Practical Intuition, who we interviewed for one of the magazines I was running. I later heard the same philosophy articulated by a brilliant dance choreographer. When you announce your question to the universe, you apparently ready your subconscious to be receptive to ideas that present themselves in daily life. I tried this for my very first mystery. I had an agent by then, from writing non-fiction, and I knew I wanted to write a whodunit about a dead nanny. But I had no freaking clue who would have wanted this person dead. So, having read Laura Day’s tip, I asked the universe, “Who the hell killed Heidi and why?” And five days later, while I was speaking on a phone call, the whole plot appeared before my eyes. It was magical.
2) Don't’ be afraid to start with something tiny. I used to think I needed a big concept right from the get go. But now I know that all I need is a germ to work with. Sometimes I just allow myself to light on a word I come across in a newspaper or even in an email and then I begin to toy with it, tease it a bit. It might be a word as simple as “twins.” I’ll ask myself, “Are the twins identical or fraternal ones?” “Were they separated at some point?” “Do they speak a secret language? “Did one of them die?”
Keep toying and teasing and see where a tiny germ leads.
The beauty of these strategies is that they work whether you’re penning your first novel or planning your next vacation and can’t figure out where to go.