criticism, lesson, writing

The Worst Question to Ask a Writer?

Usually I write blogs that can relate to anyone. Today I want to be self-indulgent.

Stephen King once said that one of the questions he hated being asked was, “Where do you get your ideas?” At least I THINK he said that. I’m pretty sure it was an inquiry he didn’t enjoy. Even if he never said it, I know for a fact David J. Schow didn’t. He wrote about it at length in one of his “Raving & Drooling” articles in Fangoria.

My point is that I don’t understand why this question drew such repulsion. After all, there have been many non-fiction pieces written by many authors (King was one of them!) where they specifically say, “I was walking through the store when I saw something, and it made me think, ‘What if…'” In other words, there are many occasions where they know EXACTLY what inspired a story idea.

Maybe it’s because they think the question means, “Why are you so creative when the rest of us aren’t?” I can’t say. The only time a question related to my ideas annoyed me was when one person said to me, “All I kept thinking is, ‘Why would anyone write a story like this?'” That’s because she was a romance novelist, and I had asked for her assistance with a novel called The Size Curse.

To be honest, I kind of had it coming. I mean, Size Curse does not have your usual plot. Not a lot of people “get” it. However, I fired back at her and said, “Well, in that case you could ask why any author writes ANYTHING. I mean, I could just as easily ask you why you write the stories you do when Danielle Steel already got there decades before you, and did it better.” The reason for the snark in my reply was due to the implied snootiness in hers. If you think about it, what her question was really saying was, “I can’t imagine how anyone could be SICK ENOUGH to write a story like this.”

Meanwhile, the news is full of stories of terrorist attacks, serial murder, people selling their kids for their weight in drugs, etc. Given how horrifying real-life stories are, I don’t think it’s an indication of a sick mind if you come up with a horrifying story. (And if it’s a sick mind who comes up with these stories, what does that say of those who CONSUME them? I mean, the writer gets paid to write them, but the reader has to PAY to read them. Think about that for a moment!)

At any rate, enough about the close-minded Danielle Steel clone. My point is just that I don’t think being asked where you get your ideas is a bad thing. It’s not like they’re saying what Danielle 2.0 said: “This idea is so repulsive that I can’t imagine coming up with it. How could you possibly think of such a sick idea???” THAT would be a question worth hating, yes, but not the inquiry I’m discussing.

I like when people ask where I get ideas. Sometimes it’s easy to answer. For example, with The Size Curse, I was thinking about how so many people wish they are something they’re not: taller, more handsome, in better shape, etc. I combined that with a riff on the Franz Kafka story Metamorphoses, and BOOM! Instant Size Curse.

Being asked where I get my ideas make me think about it, and sometimes it’s an interesting exploration. Oh, and sometimes it will even make me think of NEW stories. So let’s dial back the hate for this question. It’s undeserved.

And in case you’re wondering what this Size Curse is all about (after all, reading it would help you understand this post more), then you can find out about it here:

The Size Curse