Finding Ideas for a New Novel


6a00e54ff9f2cf88340120a786bd73970b Every few years, a writer or prognosticator of some repute declares the death of something monumental: originality, fiction, physical books, etc. Last week, Wired magazine declared that the “Web is Dead” on the front of its print edition (though they first released it on their website, go figure). As I troll around for a new idea for my next manuscript, I can’t help but wonder if there are any left. Clearly, if I listen to the “wisdom” of those “in the know,” I’m in trouble. If new ideas, print and now the web are all dead, well, I guess there’s no point in even trying to write, yeah?

I certainly can’t write a love story now that Romeo & Juliet has been written. Can’t write a road trip book after Don Quixote (which was totally ripped off by Kerouc in On the Road and Che Guevera in The Motorcycle Diaries, fyi). I’d try my hand at sci-fi but after Neuromancer and, frankly, anything by Philip K. Dick, what’s the point?

I’m not black but I couldn’t write a story about race anyway, because it wouldn’t be as good as Invisible Man (which certainly “inspired” White Teeth by Zadie Smith) or, dare I even say the words, To Kill a Mockingbird. Ditto on being Jewish, because Philip Roth already has the market cornered on that! I’m a white American male, which might be the hardest “genre” of all. All I have to do is come up with a sweeping epic that compares to anything that Faulkner, Hemmingway, Updike, DeLilo, Ford, Foster Wallace and/or Franzen has written. No prob. Will get right on it.

Or, I could simply remind myself that the book business in the U.S. did almost $24 billion in sales in 2009, according the Association of American Publishers. Which means, erm, “it” (books, print, web, originality) is very much alive. Sure, overall sales were down by a few hundred million, but given the economy that’s hardly surprising. And a lot of publishers are already announcing quarterly profits up from last year. Which leaves me back where I started—in search of an idea, a new one, if that’s even possible.

Here’s what I think: maybe there aren’t any wholly new ideas. There probably haven’t been since before there was even written words. People have been falling in love, having adventures, fighting wars, ripping each other off, imagining the future and dealing with crazy families since forever. And yet there are new stories to tell every day. Because the way I tell it will be very different from the way you tell it, even if we’re trying to spin the exact same yarn. And my experience, imagination and voice are what make my story original. And what is originality anyway, but perhaps a new way to spin an old story?

Which still leaves me where I started—in need of an idea. Perhaps all I have to do is find a great classic book to “inspire” me towards realizing my next story. Got any suggestions?

This week’s question: Where do your best ideas come from?


JMHammock1 John Meils is currently finishing a first novel, tentatively titled The Warring House. He has written for Elle, Men’s Health, and, among others. To learn more about him, visit

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  1. No suggestions. For any idea that I come up with myself I'll likely hold onto as if it were treasure. But, I did enjoy the post, it reminds me there's hope. Thanks.

  2. No suggestions, but I believe originality isn't essentially a valid issue. After all, nearly everything is based off of something else--or at least inspired. Besides that, there's no way to tell whether your story has been done before, unless you read every book ever made. What matters more is the actual *writing* behind it: you can give three people the idea of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and each would come up with a different story (given they'd never heard the original like most young children now.)

  3. The way my I deas come is from anything from simply walking down the street or even while I am sleeping AKA Dreams if you think about it it is really up to the Publisher be it a brand new Idea or something like steven King would write only with your own spin on it either way if an agent or a publisher doesn't like it what good is it anyway right not everybodies book will make it from what I read out of 1000 books submitted only nine percent of them make it and I have rated and commented on over seven hundred and fifteen stories and nearly all of them need to be elevated to the second round and even the third round but I'm not a publisher I write because I love it if I get published again great if I don't great but they will never stop me from doing what I love because I have done it my whole life this is only my oppinion and oppinions are like butt holes everybodies got one. Author JD Couch Author of One Dark Night 1-4137-2336-5

  4. Ideas simply come to me. I could be watching a movie, listening to music, walking, or just sitting. Ideas are the easy part. Figuring out which ones work is the difficult part. Sometimes you just have to keep on watching movies until a good idea finally pops into your head.

  5. what usually helps me come up with an Idea is getting away from the city go out into the country go to a lake go horse back riding in the woods nature is what helps me with story ideas

  6. I have to be honest. I believe everything I write is a total new idea. I have about ten books that each will lead off into multiple series that have not been done before nd two stand alone novels too. But even though the idea/world/concept have never been seeen or heard of... The main plot Is always the same. There always has to be some chick who eventually falls in love with a person she hated before or has always liked. So no matter how original or diff ur boook is the main core of the story has been done. But hell yes there are still ideas out there bc I have em. They pop along my head or come to me after blasting two hours of music in my ears. But no. There are still room for ideas

  7. I usually look at my life to get started, but after that it is all stuff I make up.


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