David B. Coe: Ideas and the Creative Act of Faith


David B. Coe/D.B. JacksonThis will be my last post on Magical Words for a while. My two months here for the promotion of Dead Man’s Reach and His Father’s Eyes is over, and my larger promotional campaign, my Summer-of-Two-Releases Virtual Tour, is winding down. I think all this work has paid off; I hope it has. I’d like to see some nice sales numbers for these two books I love so much.

My focus now is on my next project, which is only just beginning to take shape. I have a magic system — one I really, really like — and I have a couple of characters in mind. But I don’t yet have a plot, or a central conflict. And that’s starting to bother me.

Where do ideas come from? Can they be forced? These questions have been rattling around in my head for some time now, as I struggle to figure out what this new project is going to be about. I know that there is a story here. What I have already has too much texture, too much depth, too much flavor for it to be a creative dead end. But while I have had ideas for sub-plots and the world has taken shape nicely, I haven’t been able to come up with that core storyline.

More to the point, I’ve been doing something I don’t normally do: I’ve been trying to force myself to be imaginative. I’m ready to start working on this book. I want the ideas to come now. Usually by this time, I’ve known for some time what I’ll be working on next. My new shiny usually presents itself while I’m still working on my previous series. More often than not, I’m writing one book, chomping at the bit to get done with it so that I can move on to the new thing. Not this time. The new shiny has been slower to develop.

I’m trying to view this as a new challenge, as opposed to, say, a sign that I’m running out of ideas. But it’s frustrating, and I’m wondering how I can short circuit the process and make myself come up with the plotting and remaining worldbuilding I need in order to get going.

Dead Man's Reach, by D.B. Jackson (Jacket art by Chris McGrath)His Father's Eyes, by David B. Coe (Jacket art by Alan Pollock)All of which brings me back to those questions: Whence ideas, and is there anyway to speed the little buggers along? Yes, I’ve tried all the standard advice: the writing prompts, the stream of consciousness brainstorming, the background exercises in short fiction, even the “Work-on-something-else-for-a-while” approach. All sound tactics, all busts this time around.

On some level, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that ideas can’t be rushed, that they will be written in their own time. All of the work I’ve done in recent months to make myself think creatively about this project, has been only minimally successful. It has given me insights at the margins, but has yet to touch the core of the idea, the churning center I sense but have not yet glimpsed.

So then how do I know that the center is there? How can I be so certain that a core even exists? Isn’t it possible that my certainty about the viability of this project is a mirage and nothing more? Sure, I suppose it’s possible. There may be no “there” here, as it were. But over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that the act of creation is, among other things, an act of faith. We start our projects believing that when our work is done, the finished product will be complete and coherent, a reasonable representation of the vision that drove us to begin in the first place. But of course, we have no guarantee of this. We have only our confidence in our own creative process.

And I guess that’s where I am now. I have the elements of an idea — strands of plot, fragments of character, incomplete mosaics of setting — and based on these I assume there must be a complete story — a book, or perhaps even a series of them — waiting to be told. I could be deluding myself. I might have finally have come across the one book I want to write but can’t. Time will tell, I suppose. But I assume that when next you hear from me — in January, perhaps — I will have a new book well on its way to completion.

In the meantime, I wish you all great success with your own works-in-progress. May your ideas come to you well-formed and ready to be written, and may your submissions be met with swift, positive responses.

Be well, write well.


David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of eighteen fantasy novels. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and, the newest volume, Dead Man’s Reach, which was released on July 21. Under his own name, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first volume, Spell Blind, debuted in January 2015. The newest book in the series, His Father’s Eyes, came out on August 4. He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.



5 comments to David B. Coe: Ideas and the Creative Act of Faith

  • […] and the Creative Act of Faith,” and it is about my struggles with my next new project. You can read the post here. I hope you find it interesting, and […]

  • […] and the Creative Act of Faith,” and it is about my struggles with my next new project. You can read the post here. I hope you find it interesting, and […]

  • Hepseba ALHH

    !Oh no! please don’t wish well-formed ideas upon me! (seriously, I write too slowly and have too many background ideas doing the slow-aggregation dance while they patiently, patiently, patiently wait their turn, probably in vain.)

    Creation as an act of faith, though? Definitely. For me, most especially the creation of plots. The first book I wrote I started with *no* idea of where it was going, except, you know, it was about a resistance movement, so the *basics* of which-way-was-forward were there… But for a good ways there I pretty much just started writing to see what would happen and hopefully that would tell me what was supposed to happen next. Even now I usually feel a terrible well of despair when I happen across that bit of writing advice: ‘Don’t start until you know how it’s going to end.’ …yeah, then I’d never start. Want to try pure pantsing?! You can still have an outline, just, in the beginning, it’ll only be made up of the nifty cool things you want to try to work into the story somehow. *Garrotting of evil guardsman – check (the beginning!), *Evil-queen creepy dreams – check, *Burning down the orphanage – check (huh, that’s the end of book 1).

    And (sorry, I know you did *not* ask for advice on idea generation, but I’m american…), lately my idea jumps (for foreground and background projects) have come about thinking about the things I *don’t* like, either in popular-storytelling, or in my own so-far habits. But, yeah, it’s a slow process. Keep the Faith!

    (and good luck and don’t stay away too long!)

  • Thanks, Hep! I actually like the “things-I-don’t-like” idea,a dn have sort of been doing that. Thinking of things that bug me and why, and then looking for ways to turn them on their collective heads. So thanks! And no, I won’t be gone for long.

  • Razziecat

    David, I’m right there with you on this one! I’m doing pretty much the same thing, trying to figure out the main plot points on something that’s been on the back burner awhile, and now feels like a good time to go for it, except – like Hep – I don’t know how it ends. It was the characters who came to me first, as usual for me; and I’m doing world-building as well. I really want to get this written and send it to a beta reader! I decided to try following the advice of the book “The 90 Day Novel,” by Alan Watt, in part because I was already doing a lot of what he advises and I thought his methods might mesh well with mine, as well as give me some new techniques. The best thing for me, generally, is when I push my expectations and worries aside and really focus on “Let’s just see where this goes…” 😉 I have to let my subconscious work on things a little, if I try to force it I get bored and the ideas go flat.

    I’m sure your new idea will catch fire for you soon. I’ll be interested to hear more about it in the near future. 😀