The Writing Process 2015: Letting Ideas Simmer

Letting ideas simmerAre you reading along with my Writing Process 2015 posts?

If not, I’ll catch you up quickly. This year I’m going to post occasionally as I write a novel due late this fall. I’ve talked about sniffing a story and the difference between flesh and flash as I ponder what my next novel should be.

When last I left you I was pondering a brand new idea, one that excited me but seriously needed fleshing out. I planned to call my daughter and daughter-in-laws and ask what they would do if the event behind this new novel happened to them. They’re about the age of the major character, and I wanted specific feedback from their generation. After all the way we react is often determined by events we’ve lived through and attitudes we’ve absorbed.

All kinds of wonderful things happen to novelists. Writing is a gift in so many ways. Research turns up new ideas we needed to hear. Research also takes us to settings we would never have visited, or on adventures we never would have attempted. I spent five days in Broome, Australia to research Australian pearls for my novel Beautiful Lies. Would I ever have conceived of that trip if I hadn’t wanted to write the book?

This time my wonderful thing started with a call to my daughter. As always we both settled down for a long winter’s chat. When I told her my idea and asked what she would do if my situation happened to her, her answer surprised me. It shouldn’t have, but it did. Which just goes to show you that you never know your family as well as you think you do. Our conversation was rich and fulfilling, and afterwards she called me back and told me to watch a Disney movie I hadn’t seen. She said I would see why. How she made this connection mystifies me, but it was a wonderful insight. Have I mentioned how much I love my children?

Next I was looking forward to calling my daughters-in-law, whom I also love, when I realized this new idea didn’t need more input just yet. Letting ideas simmer is almost always a good idea, and this one badly needed to. Not just a little while. Months. Because while I already had a lot to think about, none of it could be hurried. I needed to set this plot on the back burner of my unconscious and let it grow richer and more complex. Then I could speak to them about it.

Something else was happening, too. One of the two ideas I’d brainstormed last summer kept leaping forward and waving its hand. “Choose me! Choose me!” So I went back to my notes and wow, I could see why it demanded attention. I had so much fleshed out already. I almost had a book. Best yet the parts I didn’t have would be great fun to discover in the next month. But in the meantime, the idea was ready to become a synopsis and fly to New York and Canada.

Right now my editor has that proposal. The synopsis is short, in case my publisher wants me to go in another direction, but I gave them everything they’ll need to make that decision.

Now as Nemo and I take our morning walks I think about the new-old idea. The male protagonist has a hobby he didn’t have a few days ago. The house he lives in has a different history. The female protagonist is stronger and less needy than I first imagined her. Both of them need intricate autobiographies, which will be the first step once I hear I can go forward. But that’s another blog, so stay tuned.

Meantime, I’ve finished responding to the edits for The Color of Lightwhich were great. I’ve sent off a new proposal. I’ve finished a list of twenty questions for my publisher’s newsletter. I’ve moved my study into a different part of the house. Lots of changes in 2015.

What’s on your back burner right now? Are you letting ideas simmer? What is settling? What is growing richer? Does that process work for you?

From experience I know the process will work for me. Either the flame fueling it will flicker out and the idea will evaporate or spoil, or when next I take the lid off the pot, I’ll be delighted with the progress.


  1. Martha O'Quinn on February 3, 2015 at 9:46 am

    Good morning Emilie. It is indeed a small world. When I read your message this morning your “choose me,” choose me” phrase jumped right out at me – I had not even began to read. I worked off and on all day yesterday with the phrase “pick me, pick me” in connection with a poem in progress. I’ll just let mine simmer a bit longer, mellow some more and maybe complete it in a few days.

    • Emilie Richards on February 3, 2015 at 1:53 pm

      Martha, hope the simmering helps your feisty poem in progress. Sometimes poems and stories must have their way.

  2. Machelle on February 6, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Enjoying these posts. The analogy of “just let is simmer” is a good one for me today. I too derive inspirations,thoughts, validation for multiple sources. Sometimes the surprise ingredients are the BEST!

    • Machelle on February 6, 2015 at 11:03 am

      FROM for for I really should proof read!

    • Emilie Richards on February 6, 2015 at 11:39 am

      Surprises come all the way through the creative process. You’re right, they are the best. Sometimes even the end of a book is a surprise to the author. Like The Color of Light.

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