Freelance Writing and Fiction Writing are two different beasts in many (most) ways, but they do share one thing in common aside from not paying nearly what they’re both worth: They both require you to be an Idea Machine.

We’ve discussed previously here how little value, in reality, a simple unadorned idea has in the sphere of writing. Ideas are cheap and plentiful, like widgets, and no one particularly cares that you have one—it’s only what you do with that idea that matters. For example, earlier today I had an idea for a post about the Idea Olympics, and until I started writing this post it wasn’t worth squat. Now it’s not worth much, but since I’ve shaped it into this post it’s worth something, so you see the magic trick involved.

The thing about all kinds of professional writing is this: You have to generate ideas. A lot of ideas.

Do We Need to Specify Good Ideas?

My ratio of sold, published novels to novels written is pretty low, because about 80% of my ideas are shit. I don’t know their shit until I write them, sadly. Because this ratio is so low, part of being a novelist is a constant stream of ideas that you then turn into a constant stream of books. Now, your definition of constant will vary. Some folks are more deliberate in their approach, and some folks, by dint of high sales, good reviews, and reputation can pick and choose which ideas to work on, because whatever they wind up producing will get published. For me, it’s all about finding that new idea that gets me excited and can sell to a publisher, which isn’t always easy.

Freelance is even more exhausting: As much as you’re producing content for people, you’re also expected to pitch ideas on a constant basis. The key to any freelance career, in fact, is the constant, steady pitching of ideas to the people who have the budget to buy ideas.

Either way, if you can’t come up with ideas on a steady basis, you’re not going to do great. So you should start training yourself for the Idea Olympics right now: Force yourself to come up with ideas, then shape those ideas into pitches, into queries, into synopses and other useful documents. The better you get at flexing those idea-generation muscles, the better your writing career will go. The trick to this is not to worry about bad ideas. Bad ideas will come. Embrace them, learn to identify them, and move on.

Or, if you’re me, spend years working on the bad ones, then drink very, very heavily.

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