The Myth of the Great Idea by @Andrea_Dalling

As many of the blog authors this month have said, the question “Where do you get your ideas?” is ironic. We don’t know how to make the ideas stop! Thriller writer J.D. Rhoades ( says it’s like a movie playing on the inside of his forehead all the time. That pretty well captures my experience.

Andrea Dalling, author of Seducing JordanThe challenge is figuring out which ideas to pursue, and which to let go. I’ve got the beginnings of several mysteries sitting in a drawer. But mysteries make me sad (maybe it has something to do with the dead bodies and constant fear of murder). I write romance because love stories make me happy.

That incessant stream of ideas doesn’t mean I always know what to write next when I sit down at the keyboard. Ideas for new stories are easy. (Look at me! I’m shiny and pretty!) The hard part is slogging through the book you’ve got to finish to meet a deadline. (Stay away! I’ve got plot holes and a sagging middle!)

You can’t complete a book based on inspiration alone. It requires effort and struggle, trying different ideas until you find one that works. What ifs are the most important tool in a fiction author’s toolkit.

To keep my creativity sharp, I’ll challenge myself to come up with a story idea in one minute, based on an everyday object—like the coffee mug sitting next to my computer. My thought process might go something like this: coffee > Starbucks > travel mug > something hidden inside. And voila, I’ve got an idea: A woman buys a travel mug at Starbucks, and finds a note inside from a kidnapped teen trying to escape her captors.

Sounds like a great story, right? Well, that depends on who’s telling it. Because stories don’t come from ideas. They come from storytellers.

In the movies, you’ve got actors, screenwriters, a director, the lighting crew, set designers, makeup artists, camera operators, costume designers, sound artists, editors—dozens of people working together to create the illusion that fantasy is reality. In fiction, one author fills all those roles. She creates a breathing fictive world and immerses the reader inside.

Seducing Jordan by Andrea DallingInspiration comes from many places. Last night, I opened all the spice jars in my cabinet trying to find the perfect scent to use in a scene I was writing. I keep a big box of Crayola crayons on my desk so I can play with color combinations. I research songs and movies that were popular at the time my story is set. I go online to look at photos of gardens or cityscapes. I make notes of the sensations I experience while sunning on the beach. (Or, to be more accurate, hiding in the shade with SPF50 slathered from head to toe.)

When inspiration fails, authors can try a few tricks to wake their muse from slumber. Zelda Lockhart (, a former North Carolina Piedmont Laureate, recommends reading a single line of poetry, or looking at an evocative black-and-white photo.

What works best for me is more mundane: editing what I wrote the day before. Many authors recommend that you don’t edit as you write—instead, you plow through from beginning to end, then go back and revise. If that approach works for them, great! For me, it’s straitjacketing.

And when all else fails, I take a walk. Or do the laundry or dishes. Sometimes ideas just need time to percolate while you’re doing something else.

I’m pretty sure every author gets the feeling at some point during the process of writing a new book that they’ve lost that magic we call inspiration. But here’s the thing: the magic is you. Whether you’re writing stories or knitting scarves or painting portraits or coding software or designing bridges, your creativity is part of you. With effort and time, you’ll work it out. Trust the process, believe in yourself, and persevere.

My debut novella, SEDUCING JORDAN, is an Amazon bestseller in Gay & Lesbian Erotica. Watch for the next book in the Second Chances series, HANDLING CYNTHIA, a BDSM erotic romance, in October.

Andrea Dalling lives in the sexy Southeast, where the summers are hot and the romance hotter. During the day, she’s an award-winning technical writer, but at night, she writes steamy stories. She loves to torture her characters but eventually rewards them with a happily-ever-after. Married to her college sweetheart, she’s a progressive Christian and an advocate for LGBT rights.


The Myth of the Great Idea by @Andrea_Dalling — 4 Comments

  1. Welcome to the Cafe, Andrea! You make a fabulous point: “You can’t complete a book based on inspiration alone. It requires effort and struggle…” Once the twinkle of the shiny, exciting idea wears off, you’re left with the hard work of making the story work. This is where I sometimes jump the track.

  2. Thanks, Reese. It can be hard to push forward when you feel like you’re just staring at your screen wasting time. Sometimes you just have to weed out all the bad ideas so you can find the good ones.

  3. Congratulations on your debut novel! I’m also one of those who reads and revises the previous day’s work before moving on. At least, that’s what I did with my first novel. The second and third not so much. Maybe that’s why they took longer!

    • Thanks! When I first started writing, I didn’t think about my process – I just wrote, and it was great. Now that I know what I’m doing, I think more about it. And sometimes, that gets in the way.

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