"Where do you get your ideas for books?"
And unless you just copy books that are already out there, this question is almost impossible to answer. You can say what you were doing in and around the time you got an idea for a book, but most of the time ideas for books just pop into your head, seemingly from nowhere.
The Greeks called this process inspiration, and they believed that goddesses were responsible for it. The Muses were the daughters of Memory, who in turn was a daughter of Zeus. It's eminently sensible, even scientific, to hypothesize that someone unseen and unheard (mostly) is behind what is a mysterious process of thought and language.
The Greeks were humble, too, so they didn't think of the author as having some great gift of imagination. If something was extraordinary in a person, it was likely to be from the gods.
Nowadays we know that authors are extraordinary. They take these fleeting firing of synapses we call ideas, and then, with a whole lot of sweat (ninety-nine percent, apparently), turn them into tales people want to hear.
I think that's amazing, if I do say so myself.
And that's why I am so very bullish on self-publishing, and why I still think authors should publish as much as they want to publish, regardless of how many books are filling the servers of Amazon, Smashwords, and all the other e-book purveyors.
Recently we've had a lot of hand-wringing from folks who believe there's too much junk out there and it's lowering the reader pleasure scale. Take this blog post, for example. The same author wrote in another post that indie authors who publish too fast and not their best work are doing their readers a disservice.
On the other side of the equation, one author implied that since there is so much out there, maybe J.K. Rowling should stop writing, and give everyone else a chance. "You've had your turn," she declared.
On another recent blog post, a commenter reinforced the idea that it is the reader rather than the author who is the most important part of the book process.
I am a writer myself, traditionally published in a very small way. But before that, and more importantly, I am a reader. No one should “give me what I want” as a writer, and no one should even pay lip service to my absurd aspirations therein. But my “needs” as a READER are sacrosanct, and I’ll take up the cudgel to defend them, particularly against a zombie horde of self-obsessed solipsists who care only about thrusting their own work on an unwilling world.
"Don't publish so much!" seems to be the clarion call. "Slow down! At least copy edit!"
Don't get me wrong, I can get behind the copy-edit exhortation.
The sentiment seems to come from a fear that more books to choose from = less pleasure for readers.
But here's where the Muses come in again. There's no stopping inspiration; there's no stopping imagination. Writers are going to get ideas and they're going to write them, and now, because they can, they're going to publish them. Because they feel compelled, as if from a divine source.
And that's good. That's good because, to me, that means that readers are going to get what they want. Because they don't know what they want until they have a lot of choice-- hat tip to Malcolm Gladwell and Howard Moskowitz on that one.
Will there be less money for all of us if all of us write? I don't think so. The more people write, the more people read.
Will there always be so much stuff out there? Probably not. At some point, the pent-up desire and inspiration that was effectively choked off by the traditional agent-editor model of publishing will ease up, and the number of books being published will level off.
I'm still rooting for the Muses. I like inspiration. And I like the freedom we all have to decide when we want to test the power of that inspiration.
The poet Hesiod wrote about the genealogy of the gods and the rise of Zeus to power. He says he was visited by the Muses while a shepherd on Mt. Helicon in Greece. His poem, along with Homer's Iliad, became the standard religious texts of his age and beyond.
A lowly shepherd became the voice of Greek mythology.
What if he decided, "You know, this isn't good enough. I should shelve this. I like neurotic self-sabotage." Or, "Twenty publishers have rejected this. It must not be very good."
Instead, Hesiod obeyed the Muses:
they plucked and gave me a rod, a shoot of sturdy laurel, a marvellous thing, and breathed into me a divine voice to celebrate things that shall be and things there were aforetime; and they bade me sing of the race of the blessed gods that are eternally, but ever to sing of themselves both first and last.
Translation from here.
That's the power of the author, people. Let it free.