The Journal: You Can’t Sell an Idea

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Be sure to read
* Topic: You Can’t Sell an Idea
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“Waiting rarely makes things easier. Most of the time, waiting makes things harder. The right time is now.” Farnam Street Brain Food

“The kiss originated when the first male reptile licked the first female reptile, implying in a subtle, complimentary way that she was as succulent as the small reptile he had for dinner the night before.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for over 25 years now, which reads ‘Don’t think!’ You must never think at the typewriter — you must feel. Your intellect is always buried in that feeling anyway.” Ray Bradbury

When asked what kind of writing made the most money, Elmore Leonard replied, “Ransom notes.”

Be sure to read the first item in “Of Interest” today: “You Can’t Sell an Idea”

I also recommend J. Michael Straczynski’s book, Becoming a Writer, Staying a Writer, and I recommend it sight unseen. I’ve just ordered it myself but obviously haven’t read it yet. So why do I recommend it? Because this is one of those very rare writers, one who will tell you the unvarnished truth.

Topic: You Can’t Sell an Idea

Nobody wants them.

Like Mr. Straczynski above, and like most professional fiction writers, I’ve been approached repeatedly over the years with some version of “I have this great idea. You write it and we’ll split the money 50/50.”

As my friend, ghostwriter Dan Baldwin can attest, if you ask for your 50% up front, chances are the person with the idea will bolt. If he doesn’t, well, then you have a job to do. (Be sure the contract stipulates that you have no idea whether or how well the work will sell.)

Me? I like to keep things squeaky clean. If a guy wants me to turn his idea into a novel, I can do that, and if he crosses my palm with enough silver, I will. As a work for hire. Then all royalties, etc. go to the author (of the idea), with nary another penny to the writer (me).

But usually when I’m asked to write someone else’s idea, I only wish I’d come up with Straczynski’s response: “Unless you’ve figured out a Unified Field Theory or faster-than-light travel (in which case yeah, contact me and we’ll split the money 50/50), ideas are worthless, a dime a dozen.”

It’s true. They are. And they aren’t worthless because they’re not good. They’re worthless because there’s a glut of them.

Ideas literally come from everywhere. You don’t have to think them up. You only have to recognize them when they arrive. But if you don’t have tons of ideas washing over you, well, you might need to exercise your idea muscle.

To do that, observe people. Seriously, that’s all you have to do.

As Stephen King wrote in On Writing, “The job boils down to two things: paying attention to how the real people around you behave and then telling the truth about what you see.”

Because all good fiction is about people.

SF isn’t about science; it’s about people’s reaction to science gone wrong.

Westerns and action-adventure and thrillers aren’t about Colt .45s or Comanches or comancheros or war or a ticking time bomb. They’re about the reactions of the characters who are dealing with those problems and the reader’s desire to live vicariously through those characters.

I’d like to say I’m blessed, but I’m not. For a writer, I’m actually normal. I have at least a dozen new ideas every day. Some are take-offs from whatever current writing project I’m working on. Some are completely new ideas. A few of those per week might make it into the current work as new scenes or chapters.

One of the best ways to get a good idea for the next major scene or chapter is to write a good cliffhanger for the previous scene or chapter.

I might scribble a note about the stronger “new” ideas. I did that just before I set off to write the Wes Crowley gap series. The note read, “A series to fill-in the 15 year gap in Wes’ story.” And here I am, almost 25,000 words into Assignment: Brownsville.

Maybe one idea a week falls into the category of feeling strong enough to make a note about it. So doing the math, I might scribble a note about one idea out of roughly 80-some ideas.

The rest settle to the dust on the floor of the Hovel or are swept away off the desk by the fan. And it’s absolutely no great loss. If an idea escapes me, I know there will be another dozen or so tomorrow to fill the void.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “You Can’t Sell an Idea” at Read This. It’s chock full of gems and quotable lines. I added this link to my writers’ resources over on the big site.

See “I’m Selling Books on TikTok, No Dancing (or Crying) Required” at

See “Before There Was Maverick, There Were These Real Ace Aggressor Pilots” at From the PopMechPro newsletter. Very interesting and informative story.

See “Writing Community Etiquette” at

See “Senator Klobuchar Advocates Against Amazon, Other Monopolies” at See PG’s take.

See “Catch Those Repetitious Redundancies and Pleonasms” at Great advice for formal essayists. Not so much for fiction. Let your characters speak the way they speak.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 910 words

Writing of WCGN: Assignment: Brownsville (novel)

Day 1…… 2890 words. Total words to date…… 2890
Day 2…… 3178 words. Total words to date…… 6068
Day 3…… 3124 words. Total words to date…… 9192
Day 4…… 2977 words. Total words to date…… 12169
Day 5…… 1001 words. Total words to date…… 13170
Day 6…… 3791 words. Total words to date…… 16961
Day 7…… 3569 words. Total words to date…… 20530
Day 8…… 1607 words. Total words to date…… 22137
Day 9…… 1744 words. Total words to date…… 23881

Total fiction words for June……… 33464
Total fiction words for the year………… 487953
Total nonfiction words for June… 9140
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 115370
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 603323

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 9
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 62
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.

4 thoughts on “The Journal: You Can’t Sell an Idea”

  1. Seconding JMS’s book. I was a Babylon 5 fanboy back in the 90s, and have a copy of his older screenwriting book on my writing shelf. He’s one of the “good ones”. Lots of straight to the point, no punches pulled about the realities of the writing biz, and with the chops to back it up. I’m looking forward to this new book.

    RE: ideas. It took me years to figure this out too. I’d be out in public, doing not much of anything but letting my mind wander, and it never occurred to me that the voice I heard was sending me an endless flow of ideas.

    All I had to do was start listening and writing down the ones that sparked.

    • Hi Matt, thanks for taking the time to comment. I just got my copy of the book (BASAW) today. I look forward to perusing it over the next week or so during breaks in my writing. I’m not an aspiring screenwriter at all, but I’m sure it’s chock full of gems.

      I do like the no-fluff approach. I guess that’s why I like DWS so much. I used to tell my writing students, if you want fawning praise, go see your mother. If you want the truth, sit in on my classes. (grin) And you’re absolutely spot on re ideas.

  2. Love the Elmore quote. And “you can’t sell ideas” link was great. Can’t wait to hear more as you read the book.
    I’m blessed with ideas all the time. I’m kind of a “what if” thinker and ideas just flow from that.

    • Exactly, Karen. I look forward to reading the book. It arrived today. Only $16 in paperback. I suspect it will become dogeared over time.

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