Being a writer feels like a constant struggle between desperately wanting to tell stories and desperately eager to hear other people’s stories. One of the most enduring questions a writer gets is, “Where do you get your ideas?” And most of us will tell you that it’s not getting an idea that’s the hard work, it’s slowing down the onslaught and picking the best idea. Because I have ideas all the time. Lots of random or discrete things from the news will hit me and some of them will burrow into my brain (gross, right?) and live there until they manifest something new that fits into what I’m writing.
Ideas don’t always fit the narrative of what you’re trying to do, though they may seem perfectly suited to a story. They’re like little divergent paths, roads not taken, alternate universes. But they’re sultry, and tempting, and full of bait that can lead a writer off the story road and into the weeds. Which, I will be the first to say from experience, is where some of the most stunning flowers are.
It’s a constant struggle to find the right balance between sticking to the path and making discoveries in the weeds. Every writer has to figure out their own balance for that. Readers, too. From a reader’s perspective, when we read genre fiction, we know (roughly) where we’re going and how (roughly) we’re getting there. Experiencing the “drift” that is unique to every author is what makes the trip so memorable.