New York Times Bestselling author James Rollins once told me that there are no original ideas. The comment was a bit tongue-in-cheek. At the time, I was in the process of describing my new novel idea to him—which had a strangely similar plot to a book he’d published earlier in his career.
While my cheeks heated with embarrassment—how could I not know this, as I’d read all of his books?—James assured me this was not the first, nor last, time he’d have this type of conversation with a writer.
“Be envious of great writing or a dream publishing opportunity,” he said. “But never be jealous of an idea. There are no original ones, and no two people will come up with the same way to write it.”
In truth, I’ve never struggled to come up with ideas for new writing projects. For better or worse, my mind is a continual idea factory, so much so that now when I “pitch” my peers with a new project, I can feel the eye rolls. (I’m looking at you, Kyle Kerr.)
So, it’s a bit of a shock even to myself that my current WIP isn’t actually one of my own ideas at all.
Last November, Mandy Hubbard, an agent with D4EO Literary Agency hosted an unorthodox writing contest. Tired of waiting for submissions that fit her targeted “manuscript wish list” Mandy put out an author audition call. Candidates were asked to submit a writing sample of ten pages. The prize? The opportunity to work on an in-house development project—and an agent contract with Agent Awesome, Mandy Hubbard.
Somehow, I won.
Just to be clear, this isn’t your typical writer-for-hire project. I was presented with a rough outline, developed by Mandy and co-agent, the amazing Bree Ogden. Together, we hashed out some of the finer details, and then—
In the spirit of full disclosure (and despite James’ advice), I AM envious of the idea. It’s one of those “damn, I wish I’d thought of that” kind of projects. The type to induce serious writerly doubt and a series of What if questions not conducive to productivity.
What if what I write isn’t what they envisioned?
What if this is the greatest idea I never had?
What if I never think of anything that comes close to this?
You get the picture.
It might be easy to suggest that the “hard part” was done for me—I’ve always been more of a pantster than a planner. But that would be selling the process, and myself, short.
And here’s why.
I haven’t followed the outline word for word. I haven’t matched the writing schedule week by week, which has allowed me to go through all of those emotions writers often face, including a bit of writer’s block. I haven’t created the characters exactly the way Mandy and Bree wanted, or thought they wanted. And the story is much different than either of them envisioned.
From the moment I signed with Mandy, I’ve been heavily involved in the details of the plot, have had tremendous flexibility in how the story unfolds, and—
Which of course, brings me back to James Rollins’ words of wisdom: There are no original ideas.
But YOU are.
Whether the idea came to you in a dream, was inspired by something else you read, is the re-telling of a story already told, or was gifted to you on a silver platter, how you write it is up to you.
Some of my favorite ideas have spawned from reading books or watching movies I WISH I’d written. The Princess Bride. The Outsiders. Alice in Wonderland. Splintered. Heartsick. (Gah! I really wish I’d written Heartsick.)
An idea is inspiration, the catalyst for your work. A place for YOU to shine. Because James is right—no two authors will ever write an idea the same way.
Dawn Ius is a short story author, novelist, screenwriter, professional editor and communications specialist, represented by Mandy Hubbard at D4EO Literary Agency. Dawn writes adult thriller and paranormal suspense, and in 2012, one of her as-yet-unpublished novels was optioned for development of a TV show. She is also the author of six educational graphic novels published by the Alberta Canola Producers Commission. When she's not slaying fictional monsters, she's most likely spooking her husband, Jeff and their two mischievous dogs: Jynx and Roarke. Dawn also writes young adult paranormal fiction under the last name DALTON. Her short story, THREAD OF THE PAST was one of 13 haunting tales in the SPIRITED anthology published by Leap Books (2012). Killer's Instinct, a paranormal YA novel co-written with Judith Graves, launched late 2013, also from Leap Books. Check out Dawn Dalton's blog.