7 Tips For Choosing The Best Idea For Your Novel

03/03/2017 10:45 pm ET Updated Mar 19, 2017

You can picture the scrawling letters of your name on the cover of that book. You’ve imagined your first book signing, your first time holding your work in your hands, and the first time you see your title on the Bestsellers List. You’re thirsting to be published, and you’ve got the passion, skill, and time to make it happen.

There’s just one problem.

You have no idea what your novel will be about.

You’re not alone. For many aspiring writers, the idea for a first novel is elusive and fickle. Writing an entire novel is a time-consuming, gut-wrenching task. You want to make sure you’re invested in an idea you’re passionate about and that could pay off. But how do you go about finding the idea if you have nowhere to start?

Let me be clear, at the risk of making this article seem less valuable: There is no single equation, formula, or step-by-step guide that can tell you how to find that spark. Each writer is different, and part of the beauty of the author’s journey is figuring out what incites your creativity and idea generation. For some lucky writers, like Stephanie Meyers, a novel idea comes in the form of a dream. For J.K. Rowling, it came on a delayed train. Still others juxtapose ideas from images, like Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games Trilogy.

We can all cross our fingers and hope for an awe-inspiring idea to make itself known in an obvious way. For many of us, though, the process is more tedious and less tangible at the start. After having six novels published and three more drafted, I’ve come to realize that generating an idea for a novel is a nail-biting experience that takes patience, courage, and imagination. Nonetheless, there are ways writers can work through the initial idea generation to find one worth investing in.

1. Draw on inspiration from the world around you.

Orson Scott Card once said, “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” In truth, ideas are waiting for you to grab them—if you’re willing to see them around you.

Think about your own life experiences, and look for inspiration in everyday life. This is how you find relatability in your idea. Now, expand upon it. Make it more suspenseful, more emotional, more exciting. Make it larger than life.

2. Find inspiration in things that emotionally move you.

Many writers talk about the importance of reading. I think this is so true. To write a novel means you have the goal of emotionally impacting another person, for better or worse. To know what idea will do that, you must know what ideas move you. Read voraciously and constantly evaluate what makes you feel something. Then, apply these principles when searching for the idea that will allow you to express emotion in the deepest way. We are all moved by something different. You have to know yourself before you can write a novel that will help others uncover their own emotions.

3. Give an idea time to make sure you’re passionate about it.

I will sit on ideas for novels for anywhere between a few weeks to a few years. For an idea to be “the one” that will be enticing enough for the reader and for you the writer, it needs to be able to stand the test of time. Give an idea time to sink in. You’ll know when it’s the right one because it won’t stop haunting you.

4. Keep a running log of things that are interesting to you.

Make sure you have access to tablets and journals throughout your day so you can write down quotes, ideas, and snippets that are interesting. These can sometimes be combined into an idea you can use for an entire novel. By combining elements, you can come up with an idea that is unique in its concept.

5. Ask a lot of “What If” questions.

I ask “what if” all of the time. My next novel started as a “what if” question when my husband and I were driving on a snow-covered back road. The “what if” game is an extension of number one on this list—it allows you to extract an idea from real life and play it up.

6. Monitor Manuscript Wish List Trends.

I often check the Manuscript Wish List Hashtag (#MSWL) on Twitter or the Manuscript Wish List website to see what agents are looking for. Obviously, you will not have time to write an entire manuscript in order to meet their request in a timely fashion. I’m also not suggesting you only write a book because it is “trendy” or “marketable.” Still, you can discover interesting ideas for novels that might just grab your attention and start you down a creative road.

7. Make sure you experience “real” life.

Sometimes as writers we forget the most important part about writing—living. Novels, even fiction, comment on the world, on humanity, and on the experiences that connect us. To have engaging ideas and storylines, we must experience the world in every form. We must connect with people, try new things, and be adventurous. So if you’re still looking for your idea, get out into the vast world and live. You’d be surprised just when and how an idea might come to you.

Lindsay Detwiler is the author of six published novels and a high school English teacher. For more tips on writing, please visit her blog: http://www.lindsaydetwiler.com.

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