writers' block
Blogging, Writing & Creativity

It Starts With An Idea

One of the joys of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge is connecting with some great bloggers you wouldn’t have the chance to otherwise. I’m happy to have met the lovely, Stephanie Faris, and to have her consent to writing a post for me. Thank you, Stephanie!

Stephanie Faris is the author of 30 Days of No Gossip, now available from Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin M!x, and 25 Roses, to be released in 2015. Her work is regularly featured on a wide variety of blogs and websites, both under her own name and as a ghostwriter. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Neil.

Connect with her on her blog and on Twitter.

stephanie farris


It Starts With An Idea

When you write novels for a living, you’re prone to odd behavior. You may stop, for instance, in the middle of a shower to rush to your laptop to capture a thought. You may be spotted talking to yourself while behind the wheel. You will very likely drift off in thought in the middle of a conversation.

It’s all about the idea.

I personally get some of my best ideas while on the treadmill. A long, scenic walk or an hour on the track at the gym can bring the same inspiration. Someone once explained that walking gets your heart beating, which increases the flow of oxygen to your brain. Oxygen equals clearer thinking. That sounds reasonable.

The problem is, when an idea hits, if you don’t capture it right away, sometimes you lose it. I’ve lost many great ideas over the years because I failed to write them down. Of course, there’s always that brilliant idea you get in the middle of the night that seems brilliant.

Tip: If you forget one of those ideas, don’t worry. It likely wasn’t nearly as brilliant as it seemed in your half-asleep state.

writers' block

Taking the idea to novel form is the big challenge. Recently, I read a guest blog from a writer who said for every ten ideas, only one comes to fruition. Sometimes I get an idea, start writing immediately, and figure out 20 or 30 pages in that the idea won’t work. I probably could save a little time outlining and planning, but my creativity doesn’t quite work that way.

I guess you could say I’m a pantser. That’s someone who writes “by the seat of her pants.” If I feel like I have to write an outline, I do it in the form of a synopsis after I’ve written a few chapters. That helps get me over that middle-of-the-book hump. I think they call that the murky middle? Murky middles are an ongoing challenge for pantsers.

Another downfall to being a pantser? Revisions are essential. Where outliners spend a great deal of time refining the story on the front end, pantsers can often paint ourselves into corners, requiring massive rewrites once the book is complete. You’re also frequently required to double back, sometimes deleting dozens of pages of hard work after realizing you’ve gone too far down the wrong path.

Still, it all starts with an idea. Where we get those ideas, along with what we do once we get them, is colored by our background. We also color our ideas based on what we’re writing. I might get a great idea for a love story, but since I write children’s fiction, that idea is fairly useless unless I want to try something new.

Some of the best ideas come while reading fiction. It could be one comment a character makes in a book you’re reading. It could even be a scene in a suspense novel that inspires a great child character. You never know when inspiration will strike. What you do know is that when it does, you should probably have a pen and paper handy.

~ Stephanie Faris, Author
30 Days of No Gossip
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An inspirational writer, a creativity and writing trainer/coach, I write about life, gratitude, healing, wellness, relationships at Everyday Gyaan. I offer training/coaching to anyone looking to explore their creativity and heal through writing via The Frangipani Creative, located in Secunderabad, India. You can also find me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for my weekly newsletter, Bytes of Gyaan, on Substack.

46 Comments on “It Starts With An Idea

  1. Stephanie, I am a pantster too but am learning to be an Outliner 🙂 Have an unfinished book lying on the shelf gathering dust for the past two years. Starting another one after carefully planning and plotting the story, hope to succeed. Loved your post, thanks to you and Corinne for this read.

    1. Great to meet you, Sulekha! I’ve tried outlining–I have to at least write a little of the story. I don’t know why, but I get that first line and start writing and that’s how I really think through how the story is going to go. Without outlining at some point, though, I’ve found I spend too much time revising.

  2. I’m definitely a panster, Stephanie. Although I don’t plan to write a novel, this applies to my posts as well. I really wish I could be more organized – but it just doesn’t seem to work for me.

    Thanks for a fantastic post! 🙂

  3. I think most of us are pantster save some . I get most of the ideas when I am dead tired in bed and and too lazy to get up and jot it down. But I am happy with my imperfections.
    Lovely write-up Stephanis Faris and thanks Corinne for sharing.

    1. I know outliners say that pantsing doesn’t work and vice versa–I say do what works for you! Writing is tough enough. We need to feel free to do it our own way.

  4. Waves to Stephanie! I was at a football game selling tickets and I had an idea I needed to pause a moment and think through…the mom selling with me thought I had one of those petit mal seizures. Yeah. Writers can be weird.

    1. I think I read in Danielle Steel’s biography YEARS ago that when she’s in writing mode, she’ll get so frantic, she writes on toilet paper while in the bathroom. That’s either dedication or some sort of mania…

  5. I get most of the ideas when I am listening to a lecture or when I sit for studying! But if I sit infront of my laptop an hour later and think about the idea I had got earlier, I cant remember them! Whoosh and they are gone!
    Lovely write up Stephanie and yes, I do plan to write a novel someday 😉

    1. Yeah, I think I had situations like that in college. I was working for the TV station at the time and covering stories, so it was in that context, but I don’t think professors ever appreciate us writing down our ideas during class!

  6. I am afraid I am a “pantser” too. I never have anything planned. I just sit down and if it is meant to be, the words flow, and I revise later. Amazing how many stories I have written that way…much like a free write. I have never written a book, only stories on my blog. When I get an idea, if I don’t capture it immediately..I lose it just as you say. Other times my brain will keep tossing the idea around until I sit down to write and then it all just flows. That is when I enjoy writing best.

    1. I have a file on my computer called “Blogs” that has ideas I’ve come up with. It goes all the way through September, three posts a week! I’m constantly coming up with time-sensitive ideas, though, and I have to juggle the list to make room for it!

  7. Oh yes, thoughts and ideas strike anytime, anywhere. While earlier I used to rely on my memory but now it cant be trusted to that great an extent, so now I quickly jot the bubbling ideas on my smart phone which is like an appendage to my body 😀

    1. My notes file on my iPhone is full if ideas…although I lost that file somehow in one of my many updates and I don’t feel like dealing with getting it back, so I’ve learned not to trust it!

  8. I am a panster too! And nothing other than that works. When I have an idea, I have to right i down immediately, for me to work on it 🙂 WHat a lovely post! Good Luck with your book 🙂

    1. I’ve known quite a few outliners who still get in trouble once they reach to the middle, too…often the story changes once the writer starts putting it into words, I’ve found.

  9. Great to meet you, Stephanie! I, too, am a panster; when writing The Glade Series, I had an outline in my head of where I wanted to go with the story, but, oh, the twists and unexpected turns I took all because I chose to go with the flow instead of sticking to an outline. For me, a written outline would be confining. I love the creative surprises which emerge when we simply relax and write.
    Blessings to you!

    1. I was working on a series and my agent asked for a series outline. I had to come up with ideas for all the other books in the series. That was tough–but I already knew the characters, since I’d written Book 1, so it was easier.

  10. The idea is the starting point and I love it that you say you have to write it down right away- it is so true. I would think the toughest thing is the middle part. I think that is with everything. My husband has a great idea for an art piece and he gets going but can get stuck in the middle. I even get stuck with making my little cards in the middle of things-how to piece it together. Great idea on the idea

    1. When I worked in an office, I got up every morning to walk on my treadmill at 5 a.m. I had SO many ideas while doing that because that’s also where I read. I stopped the treadmill MANY times to write down an idea. At 5 a.m. I can’t imagine how I did it!

  11. —Stephanie,
    I write only non-fiction, but this applies to me, too.
    I do not outline & sometimes I have the ending before the beginning. Weird.
    I jot down ideas all over the house & when I find them again, I’m like, “WOW! that’s some good shit!”
    Great post & Tips!!

  12. I am a punster, especially with fiction. Dialogue just seems to flow when I’m in the groove. I have a note book with lots of handwritten notes about the characters scene ideas for a book I’ve been working on far too long. I usually refer to it as a reminder as I write. However, I’m currently trying to also outline the remainder of a book to force myself to get on task. I seem to be able to outline for non-fiction more easily. Maybe because of its nature. Thanks for the excellent post.

  13. How funny! Just today, I wrote as a comment that I consider myself a fly-by-the-pants blogger then I read your post. I can now call myself a pantser, too.

    I try to keep my notebook with me constantly to scribble down ideas. One problem is, I often can’t read my scribbles when I come back hours later!

  14. I’m a pantser too. Free writing is the only way I can write. I use my notes on my iphone to jot things down as some of my best ideas – mostly poems arrive on the bus on the way to work. But once I start writing picking up on those ideas, then it’s all by the seat of my pants! Nice meeting you Stephanie. Will check out your blog.

  15. I get the best ideas when I am just about to fall asleep! I have to get up and start jotting on my laptop delaying the sleep by atleast an hour. Needless to say, that hour is the most satisfying 🙂

  16. I think there is a bit of ‘pansterness. in all the blog writers. Ideas will flow on occasions when we are in midst of some important work.

  17. Lately I’ve been carrying journals (yes plural) with me. I sometimes want to have a fresh book to use, or maybe the color of the cover isn’t the right tone for what I need to scribble. Odd. I never made the connection with exercise and writing or ideas. I will have to test the hypothesis – sounds totally logical. I tend to get ideas and write late at night, when it’s totally quiet and everyone is sleeping. I prefer the illusion of doing it all in secret. 🙂

  18. Thank you for the clarification. I believe I am a bit of both but you are absolutely right about grabbing the idea when it is fresh. I also appreciate what you said that if you forget the idea, maybe it wasn’t as brilliant as you thought it would be…..but then we will never know! 🙂

  19. Great post, Stephanie. I’m a pantser too, but luckily I don’t paint myself into too many corners. If I’ve gone off track, I usually know pretty quickly without much time wasted, and it usually comes from forcing myself to write when I’m really not in the mood. The results are often quite funny, like the time I went off on a tangent describing an outhouse. Really, an outhouse? That darling was definitely killed.

    I know Stephen King deliberately paints himself into corners sometimes. It keeps life more interesting. 🙂

  20. Some of my best ideas come when I’m shaking out the cobwebs and drinking my morning coffee. Those cobwebs take a toll, because they often evaporate before I can even turn on my computer.

  21. I am a pantser too! And I totally agree about losing those precious ideas when we don’t write them down right away. My kitchen shelf is testimony!

    Loved reading your words, Stephanie!
    Thank you, Corinne!

  22. I get all ideas when I’m half asleep 😀 This, I understood, during the recent AtoZ challenge 😀
    I might get some ideas, and if I don’t jot them down then and there, the whole thing will be washed off soon. Which means, all that I have , when I sit down for a post, is the leftover of the idea sticking on to my brain. And at times, I try closing my eyes and reproducing the sleep effect 🙂
    Lovely write up, Stephanie 🙂
    Thanks Corinne, for bringing her here 🙂

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