Brainstorming 2016: Ideas Are Never the Problem

Brainstorming 2016Certain recurring themes thread their way through the lives of all writers, fiction and non-fiction alike.

One of them we can count on? At some point we will all be approached by someone or someones who tell us they have an idea for a book and they’ll share it if we promise to write the book for them. They’ll even share some of the millions they’ll receive.

Ideas for novels are everywhere. In the air we breathe, the leaves falling from trees. They’re in newspaper headlines, in snatches of conversations we overhear, in emotions roiling inside us. Ideas are the easy part. Good ideas are harder. Ideas worth pursuing are the hardest.

Pursuing them? That’s the part that makes writers tear out our hair.

Those of you who follow this blog know I meet with a trusted group of writer friends once a year to brainstorm. The BSers (for BrainStormers, of course) have been introduced here and this year for Brainstorming 2016 we hosted the group at our summer cottage in Chautauqua, NY.

I’ve been lucky enough to be in two different brainstorming groups, and the first one ended naturally when three of the five members ended their writing careers. Casey Daniels (aka Kylie Logan) and I reconvened with two new members and the four of us have worked together now for almost five years. We always look forward to our days together.

This year some of us came to our sessions with nothing more than an idea. Each of us has two sessions devoted just to our own books. The sessions are slated to run for an hour and a half and usually go longer, and we tape every minute. This year the eight sessions  went like this.

  • One young adult series with very little structure.
  • A new mystery series with a solid premise. We came up with book ideas to include.
  • A brand new concept for a historical mystery series.
  • A series idea fueled by an idea that sounded simple but took two sessions because the timeline refused to fall into place.
  • The ending of a book already in process
  • Ideas for one new novel in a continuing mystery series
  • Retooling a book we plotted last year to make it fit a fabulous opening scene that’s already written.

These eight sessions didn’t include the nightly Tarot readings we do for one character each, which help us delve deeper into motivations and challenges.

It’s no wonder that by the time the gang vacated our summer cottage, my brain had been well and truly stormed, and for the next week idled without an original thought.

Read the list above with the following in mind. How much of what we did in early June has to do with new ideas and how much had to do with technique? Sometimes it’s hard to separate them.

The “series idea that sounded simple” was mine. I didn’t want or need ideas for individual books. By now individual plots are relatively easy, and I knew we could tackle those ideas next year, if needed. The brainstormers tried desperately to give me ideas anyway, but I flogged them back into place. I needed help with something larger, an overall structure that would be interesting and carry what I conceive as a five book series.

I needed structure. Two more of my colleagues needed structure to finish novels they’d already started. They didn’t need ideas. They had too many ideas, and they needed help figuring out which worked, which could work, and which had to be tossed. Then how to implement them.

In the “ideas” category we ranged from a plot for one book to entire series concepts. And even for the concepts we had to flesh out the structure so thoroughly that the author could go home and begin slotting ideas into place for as many of the books to come as possible.


Have I made my point? Ideas worth pursuing are not a dime a dozen. You may have a great one. Just remember that the idea is a flicker in the darkness, and filling your fictional world with light is the hardest part of writing.

I’m lucky to have talented and committed friends to help me light my worlds. If you’re writing and find yourself in the dark repeatedly, gather a few writers you trust and see if you can help each other. Be warned, though. Brainstorming isn’t for everyone. If you don’t like having others play with your ideas, if you have to nurture that tiny flame by yourself or it will go out, than find another way to enhance your creativity.

Brainstorming 2016 has ended, but as always brainstorming gave me energy, and reminded me why I do what I do. Best yet, I know help is available if my fictional world suddenly goes dark. My friends are a phone call or email away. Just knowing that makes writing so much easier.

Thanks Brainstormers. I’ll see you in 2017!


  1. Casey on June 29, 2016 at 10:13 am

    BSing is the highlight of my writing year! Thank you, ladies, for your insights, your brilliance, and all those wonderful ideas!

  2. Marsha Markham on June 29, 2016 at 10:38 am

    Thanks for the glimpse into what this was like. I found that so interesting.
    A writer I enjoyed for several years was LaVeryle Spencer but eventally she retired. A lot of people were disappointed and felt let down but I have to admit I admired that about her. It was time to let go for her and just enjoy life.
    I’m hoping, if you ever decide to stop writing you’ll keep up with your Krewe. I know that your life isn’t just about the books you write… you have a great life with Michael and the family; that’s healthy and good. Have a great summer.
    I’m wishing the same to all my Krewe sisters too.

  3. Shelley Costa on June 29, 2016 at 10:40 am

    I love what you had to say here, Emilie. All so well put, and right on the money. Our Brainstorming week fuels me and my work in so many ways each year. Thanks, Emilie, Casey and Serena for your creativity and generosity.

  4. Nancy Lepri on June 29, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing. It’s so wonderful to have good, trusted friends to knock ideas off of. It helps to get the creative juices flowing to write the awesome books you write, Em!

  5. Kate on June 30, 2016 at 9:01 am

    This kind of reminds me of quilting. I have dozens of ideas, but it often takes a gathering of my quilting friends to help figure out how I can make it come together, how to get the pieces to fit.

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