Finding Ideas for a New Novel05:18
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?