In the past, when I've finished a book, I take a week or two off to clear out the previous book's webs in my brain-attic, then start on a new project.
This time, I took a different approach. I asked Agent B (the incredibly marvelous Barbara Poelle of The Irene Goodman Literary Agency) if she thought I should come up with a few more book ideas and we could chat about them before I started the next book. She said to come up with 20. Not 19, not 21. Exactly 20. She told me a story about another client of hers (who I have MAD respect for) that did this same thing, before she wrote her first best seller. So you can imagine how pumped I was to start.
Twenty is HARD.
Firstly, I always have a couple of ideas rattling around my head. Once I cleared out the dross and glitter globules of my brain, I found I had four.
Four is far away from twenty, you know.
Also, some of these ideas were a sentence. They needed some serious fleshing out.
I spent December's waking hours fleshing out my four initial ideas—giving them character names and ambitions and tweaking the blurb (we decided I'd write a 'blurb' for each of the books, as if I'd already written the damn thing and knew what happened at the end. Which I don't.)
But when I was asleep, or running or shoveling snow my brain was churning. The challenge and glory of having to come up with 20 story ideas is that you need to be less precious. You can't wait for your muse to hit you over the head with the story-stick, you need to grab ideas, turn them upside down and shake them until they say 'uncle' or until they bloom into something good. Every article I read I asked myself, Is there was a story there? Every TV show I asked myself if there was a fresh, me-like angle on the story. Music videos, billboards, other people's conversation. I was like the prince in Cinderella grabbing on to anyone with a lower limb trying to fit a shoe, uh, I mean, story on.
It felt a little feverish, seeing every tiny thread as a story waiting to be told. And exciting, and a little exhausting. Even after I had 23 ideas I could refine, I kept searching. A lot of my ideas came from dreams. A lot came from reading articles. Two came from something my kids said.
That was only part one of the exercise. The heavy lifting came when I spoke to B. She asked a lot of questions. Poking my ideas with her own Yoda-like story-stick to see if they held up, made sense and had legs.
The twenty became seven. Then were down to 2. Now I have narrowed it down to 1.
This story is where I'm world building next. I'm excited.