Monday, September 16, 2013

A Real Writer

A friend once emailed me with a question about writing. She felt overwhelmed because suddenly she had too many story ideas and didn’t know which ones to write first.  Does this happen to me, she asked, explaining that she asked me because I was a “real writer.” She’s not sure she warrants that title yet, because if she did, maybe she’d know which story should be next.

My answer to “does this happen to me?” was a resounding “yes.” Currently I have nine books in the idea stage that I want to get to – someday. Some of them are more fleshed out than others. Some I know will never actually get written, because I have a limited time to walk the earth, and more stories and book ideas keep popping in and shoving older ideas out of line. The thing about creativity is that once you open the gate to your creative self, ideas will pour through like surf-boarders riding rushing waves. 

This is a good thing, and many of those ideas are transformational and wonderful. Some of them are bland and stupid, of course, and they pour through your gate too. But you can’t do them all, so it takes practice at discernment to know which you should work on and which you should stick on a shelf somewhere. (Notice I did not say to discard them – sometimes what looks like a stupid idea will transform itself into brilliant when the time is right.) 

I have another friend (a “real writer”, by the way) who once told me her “egg chain” metaphor. Think of yourself as a hen. Your body is continually making eggs inside your egg cavity.  But you can only lay one egg at a time.  If you tried to lay all of them at once you would break your poor little laying mechanism. (Sounds really painful.)  But if you don’t lay any of your eggs, pushing hard to get them out in the world one by one, all your eggs will rot inside you. And that would be icky.

The thing about eggs, though, is that they are not the end point. The end point is a feathery little chick.  So you can lay a clutch of eggs, but you still have to nurture them by warming them, then when they hatch you have to show them how to forage for food, and only then can you let them go.  It’s a big undertaking, to be a hen writer. You will be laying some eggs, sitting on others, and polishing others into chickens once they hatch.  It’s also sad sometimes to be a hen, because not all of your eggs will hatch, and of the ones that do, not all will live through chickdom, and of those who grow up, some of them will get eaten in the prime of their youth.

All this rambling stuff about surf-boarders and gates and hens and eggs means that I don’t know how many is too many.  Sometimes you focus and make sure your egg hatches, sometimes you show a whole brood of chicks how to scratch up their dinner, and sometimes you just brood over your clutch.  I do know that you are a real writer, whether you have already written a book or short story, or are just working on them.

I am glad my friend thinks of me as a “real writer.” Sometimes I forget and have doubts too.
I think that’s part of being real.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit


  1. I call neglected story ideas my "Widows and Orphans." I have a whole file of them. Several are complete first drafts. I may go back to them, or not. I write the story that I know has a solid plot, characters I love, and a marketable genre (that used to be less of a priority). The second criteria is that I have to feel energized about writing it. If you are dragging yourself to the keyboard everyday thinking, "I don't really care about this," consider putting it in a file and moving on to something you do feel passionate about. You can always reunite with your widows and orphans later. The key to what wasn't working with them may come to you along the way.

    1. I so agree, Diana, that writing from a passionate place is so much more productive than that place of "have to." However, I sometimes find that passion behaves like ocean waves -- it comes in, then goes out, and when it's out, it's out, no use trying to call it back. You just have to wait and know that it will come back. Writing is teaching me patience.

    2. Diana I'd be interested in more about this statement: "...and a marketable genre (that used to be less of a priority)."

      Writers whine all the time that they want to write whatever they want, unrestricted by the "boxes" publishing wants to impose on them. Is marketability something that has become more important to you now that you are self-publishing? A post on this from both sides of the artist/publisher divide would be interesting.

  2. My ideas are usually very sketchy--more like 'here's a character I want to write about' or 'how can I use this song in a story' or 'I love that line. What can I do with it.' I just had a reader as if there was going to be another Pine Hills book, and another reader wanted to know if I'd tell Olivia's story. I guess I'm inclined to try to work around requests--having written 12 books, I know it's a serious job, and I'm less likely to wonder about those eggs way up the line, and just get the next one written.

    Terry's Place

    1. Terry, this is how I approach ghostwriting too -- the words come in response to my clients' expectations, and I'm less likely to be seduced by the new shiny ideas that appear in my head like perky goblins.

  3. I have so many projects in various stages of development, starting with shoe boxes full of index cards and ending with full books in revision. The joys of creative process! I should follow Terry's advice - focus and get it written. Or maybe I should amend that to get it published.

    1. I think I suffer from Serial Focusing (kind of like Serial Monogamy).

  4. I am always amused when non-writers ask me how I come up with ideas for my books. How do I not come up with ideas. Like other posters here, I have files full of ideas for future books--many, though not all, "really good ideas."

    This year, for the first time, I had multiple projects going concurrently: a novella in a new genre, a murder mystery/love story, and a reality-based techno-thriller. I finished the first two more or less in parallel and am wrapping up the third.

    Now I face the possibility that the mystery novel might never see the light of publication. My beta readers thought it was a great story, well told, but too controversial. My wife--first and last reader of all I write--took matters a step further and nixed it, saying the world is not ready for such a hot-button story.

    Okay, on to the next project in the list.

  5. Ideas abound...time and opportunity do not. I choose a project to pursue, and so it goes. On occasion it works to combine ideas, but that isn't the norm. Doing concurrent projects works when time permmits. Maybe the problem lies in the time issue...hmm.

  6. Kim,this is great. I used to think "I'd like to write a book, but I have no idea what I'd write about." Then when I started, the ideas just kept coming. Creativity begets creativity. And yes, you are a "real writer!"


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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