Where do ideas come from?

Where ideas come fromI had the chance to talk to a reader recently who, when she had me pinned in a car, asked where the idea came from for The Mark of Oldra. She asked some really good questions about where I got the idea for many of the features of Essawood, including how they lived.

It is little things that trigger a bigger idea for me. Usually in conversation; or watching people in café’s when I should be listening to my friends.

Many writers will say that you need to be observant. To always be watching.

I think that is part of it. Paying attention certainly helps.

But it is asking questions about what you see that I think leads to exciting ideas.


‘What if the eggs in the nest didn’t contain baby birds?’

So what would they be? What could they be? What comes from eggs? What doesn’t come from eggs but in another world could?

So you see there are lots of ideas just from a nest with eggs.


One writer mentioned the installation of a telephone box outside his house, but no phone was ever connected. He used to look out his window and wonder what it could be. Another suggested taking the everyday and making it something else. Could it look like a house but it isn’t?


But everyone comes back to the “what if…?” idea. And I do this when drafting story ideas.

What if red riding hood ate the wolf?

What if the witch was good?

What if Dorothy never made it to Oz?


This can be particularly useful with fantasy as anything can happen. Any little thing you notice could, with the right question, lead into something magical.


What could lie behind the loose brick in the school wall?

Why do two socks go into the machine but only one ever comes out?

What do the animals do when we are at work?


I could list a whole range of ideas for all sorts of items or scenes that I come across every day.


Try it yourself:

Take a picture, or an item and think about the what if’s.

Could it be a different colour, size, shape?

Could it be used for something very different? What if it did the opposite of what it does now?

Who could use it and why?

Is it a secret?

Should it be a secret?

How did it get to where it is?


Find your item and write your questions or take something you know and think about how it could be different and what that would mean for your world.


More examples include:

What if the queen was voted in?

What if the government system was different?

What if there were five gods and you got to sit down with them and chat when you go to church?


For those of you that are curious, this was the beginning of an idea that would one day become The Mark of Oldra:

I was reading an article about a writer and his amazing view of a forest from his writing desk. I looked up from the magazine, out of the window by my writing desk and along my not very exciting street (at the time) and I was disappointed. I wanted to live in the forest he described and the changes he saw over the seasons.

I closed my eyes and imagined looking over the forest in winter, with deep snow and bare branches. And I was surprised by a man stepping out from behind a tree. He was cheeky enough to wave and then disappeared.

That was my first meeting with Pira.

Before I knew it Gerry was running from the house to see who he was.

Their story grew from there and changed a bit over the writing of it. But whenever I got stuck I always asked Why? And What if?

What I am learning from editing

What I am learning from editing

What I am editing:

I am working on the first book of a new full length novel series. This is a medieval fantasy and a little different to what I have done before.

I am a little behind where I would like to be. My schedule was thrown out a little by pushing Oldra into this year. But I think I can make it up.


What I’m trying to do:

Strengthen the story. That is ensure the plot works and fits with the following books; ensure the characters are who I want them to be (although they tend to be who they want to be). More of the detail will be focused on next edit.

I want to ensure that the characters have depth and their own voice. Most do but others need a little work. I’m also thinking more about the setting. In my first draft I have lots of “rooms” or “spaces” or a rough idea of where they were in the grounds or castle. This edit is about fleshing out the bones. There is still a lot of work to go, and a lot of moving around the story and then I’ll complete another read-through and mark-up. Then it all starts again.


How well it is working:

It is coming together reasonably well. There are some major gaps that I’m trying to fill in as I go; too many characters don’t have a name (although we don’t want a Mr Martin style cast of thousands). The characters are working fairly well on their own already and the plot is reasonably strong, even with the gaps currently in the storyline. It is hard work. But I know the importance of editing.


My editing process:

I am just slogging on. I pick up where I last was, reread a page to get back into the story and take it sentence by sentence. There are scenes I’m moving around, chapters I’m combining. Some of this is still rough, but then I rework through what I pull together so that it makes sense and I’m not refixing on the next edit.

My plan is to complete this edit, read through and then repeat several times before it is at the point I can send to the proof reader. I am considering having someone look at more of a structural edit for this one, but it depends how it goes. It is certainly worth someone else reading through the manuscript, especially when self publishing.

In The Mark of Oldra, my proof reader picked up that I referred to someone by name before she learnt his name. No matter how many times you check your own work you can’t pick up everything.


There is still a long way to go but I love all the characters, even the bad ones and so I want to ensure their story is the best it can be. It will get easier as it goes. Then I will need to start thinking blurbs and covers.

My Number One Tip to Beat Writers Block

beating writers block

A couple of years ago I struggled with long periods of writers block. This impacted on everything I was trying to write at the time, including my Masters. It was hard going. What was worse, just when I thought I had moved through it, I was hit with another period of inability to write.

One of the keys to moving through a writing block is to work out what causes it in the first place. For me, writers block hits when I am overwhelmed by what I have to do. It may be that it is too much; or the deadlines are scary; or there is a lot of pressure behind the writing work, such as my Masters; or a combination of all of these things.

Strangely, the magic relief to these periods of writers block was to work between several projects.

I have heard others say that this is not a good idea; that you can’t be focused when multi-tasking. Switching between multiple projects is not multi-tasking. It is working on different projects, one at a time.

Let me clarify with some examples. I will work on an Iski Flare manuscript until I need a break from it; then I’ll draft a couple of blog posts. I might spend some time editing another story or playing with ideas for a new story.

I am not trying to work on several projects at the same stage at the same time; that is, I’m not trying to draft two stories at the same time. That wouldn’t work at all for me. That would be one of those crazy ideas that would lead to becoming overwhelmed at the state of two different stories and so lead to a major stumbling block.

I usually have one project in draft, one in edit and one in final production stage. This means that if I become overwhelmed by one, or tired, I can switch to something else. I love drafting. I find that easiest of all my writing tasks. But then I love to nurture that into something stronger. So, I can work my writing tasks in around my energy levels and keep the momentum going.

Given my timetable for this year there is a little more overlap in stages of projects than I would like but it generally works. It may be that if I’m editing two works, I focus on one for a week and then the other and they would be at different edits. If I have a deadline looming then it might be that I can’t concentrate on anything other than what I have to get done.

The mind works in strange ways and I have found a few ways to work with mine to get the most out of it. Keeping busy keeps me writing. The key is to find the right balance of busy writing without tipping into Overwhelmed World, where there is so much to do that no writing gets done at all.


How do you like working?

Is it large chunks of time or little? Can you follow one project through from start to finish without getting distracted, or blocked or burnt out; or do you have to think about something else at times?

I would love to hear your stories and tips on beating writers block – hit reply to this post and share them with me.