Where Blog Ideas Come From

I’m writing this blog Saturday night, in San Jose (two hours from home) because my oldest daughter has a weekend-long volleyball tournament.

They played six matches today (lost four, won two) and will be playing a minimum of four tomorrow. The team is new–most of the girls haven’t played together before, but by the end of today they seemed to have developed a rhythm and camaraderie that was lacking at the beginning. Tomorrow should be a lot of fun for all of us.

We got back from dinner with the team at eight, and I knew I needed to write this blog. So now I’m sitting at the computer and have no idea what to write about.

I wrote five original blogs and answered two interviews for my January blog tour to promote LOVE ME TO DEATH. I’m kind if empty on the blog ideas.

Should I talk about my digital-only novella, LOVE IS MURDER, that was released last week? No, too self-promo.

When I’m stuck at home, I look at my book shelves. Just look at them, remember the books I’ve read and what I liked and disliked about them; books I haven’t read and why. I look at my desk and see work or a drawing from one of my kids. I skim through my iTunes thinking about music or the television shows I recently watched.

Should I talk about my two new favorite crime shows, DARK BLUE and DETROIT 187? Hmm–no, because I vaguely remember that Brett . . . or someone else . . . recently blogged about t.v., which was the reason I downloaded DETROIT 187 in the first place. I don’t know if I should kiss or curse whoever told me it was a must watch show. Fabulous.

Or, maybe I could talk about research . . . the research for my current WIP, Lucy Kincaid #3 IF I SHOULD DIE, or that I’m participating in another SWAT training session . . . I don’t know yet whether I’ll be a victim or a suspect! That’s in March. I’ve blogged a lot about research, so I’m kind of burned out on the subject. (But I will blog about SWAT after the exercises!)

The big problem? I’m not at home. I can’t just look around my office or go into the house and pour a margarita or pull a book off the shelf to jump start the muse into inspiring me.

So I asked Twitter.

One problem with Twitter is that first, I have just less than 2000 followers. Second, it’s after 9 p.m. on a Saturday night and I’ve learned that Tweets slow down at night and on the weekends. Hmm . . . does that tell me people Tweet at work? No! Can’t be! Or maybe people have lives outside the Internet? Really? 

In the twenty minutes since I posted my plea for a blog idea, I’ve had four:

@jennspiller suggests death by volleyball.

* Does this mean I’m suppose to write a short story about a murder at a volleyball tournament? Who’s the victim? Why? Where? How? With the net? Strangled? Even a short story would take a couple thousand words. Next?

@kendraelliott says “I don’t know how you write so many blogs. And you always keep them fresh.”

* Thanks, Kendra. I really needed that pressure tonight.

@APMonkey suggested “How you balance the toughness of your female leads with their femininity?”

* I do? Really? Wow! Great news. I’ll go ask my characters and get back to you.

@rrsmythe wrote: “how about…how writers pick their genre…or does it pick them based on their personalities…;)”

* Is that a loaded question or what? But I think I can answer it fairly quick. I don’t think personality has much to do what writers write. I don’t think romance writers are naturally more romantic, or mystery writers naturally better at solving puzzles. I think genre comes partly from voice, partly from personal interest, and partly from talent–i.e. what they’re good at.

Because if my personality shaped my genre, I must be a very curious, very odd, very morbid person. (As well as cynical and hopeful a the same time, which is just too much like a split personality.)

So thank you Tweetheads for helping me tonight. I now have over seven hundred fifty words about nothing. I would be upset, but Seinfeld–the show about nothing–seemed to do pretty well for many years.

Sometimes, ideas just pop into my head and I barely have to think before I write; other times, the ideas take longer to percolate. Both for blogs, and books.

Since I don’t have any good questions for you all, why don’t you ask me something? Or maybe something you’d like me to write about in the future? I’ll have my iPad courtside during the volleyball tournament ready to answer. And, if you’re stuck like me, go out and have a great day.





26 thoughts on “Where Blog Ideas Come From

  1. Kathy Collings

    So, do blog ideas have to follow rules of the title or purpose of the blog? Or, could you blog here about, perhaps, what the girls think about team sports and why they picked one that is segregated by gender? Or, perhaps blog about what you saw that caught your interest in or around San Jose that works like looking at those books at home?

  2. Reine

    Hi Allison,

    I'd like to read about your observations and thoughts on the girls' developing a group rhythm and camaraderie. I loved participating in girls' team sports when I was in school. There was something really great about the relationships we had, the intense fun of whacking a wooden ball about a field– running, falling, yelling, laughing. All tht sort of thing. I didn't have nearly the fun with boy/girl teams. Totally different experience. I liked playing ice hockey but was the only girl. Same with baseball. I loved doing that, but it wasn't fun. It was all about skill and winning.

  3. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I'm a "book-looker," too. I like to stay up late at night and stare at all the books I have in my collection. It somehow grounds me, gives me inspiration, reminds me of what it's all about.

  4. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Allison

    Hmm, OK, what's the strangest thing or oddest little quirk or coincidence that you've spotted while you're out and about, that has morphed into something you've used in a book? It could be a small thing that you've used to add verisimilitude to a setting or character, or something that became a major plot point.

  5. Cornelia Read

    I hope the games go really well today, and I'm stealing "book looker." I used to be one, now I have to imagine all my books in storage in California. Which just kills me…

    Great post!

  6. JD Rhoades

    Been there, done that :-). I occasioanlly get ideas looking at other blogs or other posts here..often something that's just mentioned in passing or that would risk de-railing a comment thread can be expanded inot a post of its own.

    Good luck to your daughter! That's a lot of volleyball.

  7. Dina Kucera

    Oh Allison.
    I have begun work on my second book. Let me be honest. It is killing me. The material, the topics, the writing. The book will be a book of essays. So, the problem is that I begin to write about an event or topic that I think is really strong, 6 hours later, it's just not happening. Last night as I lay in my bed to go to sleep, I prayed and prayed, that I could wake up today with a few really inspiring ideas! And then you popped up on my FB and I read your post. What if, I write about nothing? Because I know that nothing ALWAYS becomes something. But the stress is removed. Thank you for the little flicker of light that you did not even know you were giving to a stranger by writing about nothing, that really turned in to something. Did that even make sense? Have a great day in volletball land:) Dina

  8. Rob Gregory Browne

    You know, there's any easy way to come up with blog ideas. You see, there's this store in North Hollywood—I think they're online, too—and you simply call them up, give them a due by date, a vague area of topic and they'll not only generate several ideas, but write one of them for you if you're so inclined. I use them regularly. I've even gotten refunds when the post didn't generate more than fifteen comments. But that's a tricky area, because they also take CAPTCHAs into account and sometimes blame them for "comment interruptus," as they call it.

    Email me privately if you want their number.

    I've also been to many volleyball tournaments in my time. I used to enjoy those things. My daughter was a good player.

  9. Marley Delarose

    I like the idea of hearing more about the girls but I'd also like to know what's on your shelf, what makes a book or tv show 'work' for you long term, since I'm a Justifed – YES!!!- Detroit and Castle fan. And Allison, what about Blue Bloods? And what makes you pick a book up and then abandon it.

    Personality, yeah, if I'd heard Lisa Gardner on her workshop or seen you speak at M&M before I'd read your books I'd have thought both of you wrote romantic comedy.

  10. Marley Delarose

    I like the idea of hearing more about the girls but I'd also like to know what's on your shelf, what makes a book or tv show 'work' for you long term, since I'm a Justifed – YES!!!- Detroit and Castle fan. And Allison, what about Blue Bloods? And what makes you pick a book up and then abandon it.

    Personality, yeah, if I'd heard Lisa Gardner on her workshop or seen you speak at M&M before I'd read your books I'd have thought both of you wrote romantic comedy.

  11. Allison brennan

    We have a new "captcha" system because of the ridiculous amount of SPAM we get here at Murderati. This will save us a lot of time cleaning it up, but the downside is that I can't comment from my iPad for some reason. Now, the girls have a break!

    Kathy: I don't know what you mean about gender segregated sports. At this age level, most sports are segregated. My daughter has played volleyball and basketball, Varsity Girls. Though at our high school–a small D-5 school–we have a female kicker for the football team. Last year it was a senior who ranked (I believe) 6th among all kickers in California — ALL kickers, not just D-5. And this year, we have a freshman who is also ranked high. They both came from soccer. They guys have welcomed them. But tackle football isn't a coed sport, nor should it be.

    As far as food–we haven't explored (stuck in the convention center!) but my other daughter Kelly and walked around yesterday and there were a lot of restaurants. Last night we went to a cheap but delicious hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant with the team.

  12. Allison brennan

    Reine — yesterday, I thought the girls had clicked. But this morning, they're back to their bad habits. I'm hoping it'll change. Part of it may be coaching. We have a good coach, but she gets easily frustrated with the girls, some of it justifiable, some not. My daughter totally bonded with her basketball team for two years, even though Katie hates basketball. But the team was totally cohesive. So Katie knows what's like, and this new VB team hasn't found that yet — even though they were close. I hope they get over this hump. Losing isn't fun, but losing teaches character.

    I suspected that of you Stephen! 🙂

    Wow, Zoe, you have a thinking question. I'm too tired to think! But something recently happened that I will be putting in a story. I was at the FBI Citizens Academy quarterly presentation. It was on the Sandra Cantu murder case led by the lead FBI Agent who worked it. The agent was *almost* but not quite a stereotype. He had a dry sense of humor, he didn't over-explain anything, it was more the way he asked rhetorical questions and raised his eyebrows that had me enthralled. He acted almost naive when he was going through the interviews with the persons of interest, but as he relayed this questions and thoughts and the questions he had, I was thinking, "Television does get it right sometimes." Like when one POI told cops he didn't even know the missing girls name, but then went to the second POI and asked him, "Have you seen Sandra? — on his answering machine, which the police obtained through a search warrant. I liked how the agent didn't spell everything out, just had this half smile and eyebrow thing that told us he saw the idiocy and humor in the responses. That will be going into a book 🙂

    Cornelia, I'm sorry about your books–mine were in storage for a couple years, too, and it's sad they were so lonely that when I got them we were all happier!

  13. Allison brennan

    Dusty, I get ideas from other blogs, too, but with the volleyball thing this weekend and a bunch of blogs I had to write for my blog tour, plus two night events this week, and writing, I haven't been out and about in cyberspace much! Sometimes, I get an idea and comment and the comment goes on and on . . . I need to remember to save those for blogs!

    Dina, I'm so glad I inspired you! Writing about nothing is rarely "nothing." Have a great day!

    Rob, if we make it to state championships next year and are down south, I'll let you know 🙂 As far as your store, I don't know . . . I'm always skeptical when others give me ideas. I think I'd rather sound stupid all on my own. 🙂

  14. Allison brennan

    Marley, romantic comedy?? Really?? I'm not funny. Really. I just don't have it in me. I can be self-deprecating with the best of them, but humor eludes me. 🙂 I'm going to tuck away your blog suggestion for next time–but the short answer? What grabs me on television is character. I have to be intrigued by a character or team. DETROIT 187 works for me because the characters feel real to me, actions and reactions believable, and Fitch is quirky. When he calls people to talk to them while in the same room because he has a harder time communicating face-to-face, that tells me there is a lot of depth in that character and the actor plays him amazingly well. He sold me on the show.

    But I'll definitely talk more about this topic later!

    And whistles, Alafair. Don't forget the whistles!

    JULIE: I don't take time off between books — not more than a day to catch up on things I've neglected. I write three books a year and time off is impossible. If I'm done on a Friday, however, I'll usually take off the weekend. At the most I've taken a week off between books, but usually because I had something else to do (like write a short story or had a book release or something.) And sometimes, if an opening scene hits me for a future book, I'll write it real quick (just the nitty gritty) and put it aside until I'm done with my current project.

    Too much time off makes me lazy. But every writer is different, and I think you should have a talk with your muse and see if she's just being a bitch and complaining, or if she really does need to refuel.

  15. Debbie

    How do you mention your work without it being bsp? How do you get somebody to interview you if you're a first time novelist? What about getting a blurb if you're a first time novelist? Why are authors critisized for giving out cool promos that fans want but might also be seen as gimicks? Should they care? When is it alright to be comical with the stupid questions, or do the questions just seem that way because they are over asked? What about the rude questions that don't deserve a reply like, 'what do you really do for a living?' or, 'how much do you make?' What questions do you usually ask of your beta readers or critique groups? Do you get them to mark up your MS, or just tell you? How detailed is their feedback? How often does a spouse/person with whom you're involved ask after reading an MS, 'Is that us, me? Do you feel like that?' Does it ever lead to insecurity or discussions within a relationship? How does an author not give away a pseudonym when writing blogs? If recognized as that other auther, do you admit it?Unless you are writing porn on one hand, and childrens lit on the other, why would you want to hide so completely? We've covered not completing a book we begin to read, how about ones we begin to write? How do you shop for an agent once published or is it the same process as a first time novelists search? How do you promote a completely different book from the one being written without confusing them, or losing focus on the current WIP, or especially if they are part of the same series? When an author is looking for info and mentions that they often get research from a source for a dinner, do you take the person out for dinner and 'grill them', go to their office and get info and then go for dinner, give them a gift card for a restaurant with a thank you? Who do you choose to thank in acknowledgements…I mean, how minor a role before you leave them out? How formal is pitching a book to an agent at a conference…give us a typical discussion. Anyone care to share rejection letters, especially for one that got published? How intense is editing…ie. do you typically mean tweaking lines, scenes…or actual rewrites of each paragraph, like recreating the novel. What are typical comments from editors and how much of their suggestions must you take? How much promotional material is out of pocket (advances) and how much is from the publisher? Anybody want to tackle theme, archetype, symbolism…not what are they, but how do you layer them in? How do you take out a subplot or add one in to a complete MS? What is tax deductable in general and must you be published first, or can you save receipts prior to a contract? What are the chances that Murderati could do a side by side comparison between the authors, for questions that interest them, where their style or opinions vary? Why am I asking so many questions?

  16. Allison brennan

    LOL Debbie! I should write a blog around these questions!

    I'll answer one just because I do have an answer for it. When people ask me how much I make, I tell them 64 cents a book. I do think it's a rude question, because people don't ask doctors and lawyers and businessmen and others how much they make, why authors?

    Many of your questions will have different answers from other Murderati members, but I think you've given us enough ideas for blogs in the next month! Thanks 🙂

    (P.S. — I don't know how to explain layering in theme or anything that might be mentioned in a college writing class. I can tell you what the symbolism is, but not how I created it because I don't do it consciously. If I even have themes or symbolism in my books.)

    Louise, my favorite Mexican food restaurant is in San Mateo on El Camino Real called La Fonda or La Honda. I don't know if it's still there, it was back in the mid-90s before my mom moved to Folsom to be closer to me.

  17. JT Ellison

    I used to be a volleyball player – I miss it. Hope you had a fun day.

    I have a question – why is the world round?


    Serious question though, how do you do it? I guess that's closely related to how fast do you type?

  18. Reine

    OMG – 100wpm? Not even in college. I'm getting pretty good with the totally, almost totally, accessible iPad. My thoughts per minute are average, though, I guess.

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