Don’t wait for the lightning bolt – Amanda Ortlepp

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By Amanda Ortlepp

Like many people, I’ve always wanted to write a book. I thought that one day a great idea for a story would hit me like a lightning bolt, and I’d know that it was finally time to start writing. Naively, I expected that the idea would come to me fully formed and all I’d have to do was type away furiously until the story was complete. But I’ve since learnt that ideas don’t find you – you find them.♥

When I finally started writing fiction at the age of thirty, I didn’t have any good ideas. I just knew that I had waited long enough and couldn’t wait any longer. So I wrote whatever I could think of – random scenes with no background or context – and all of a sudden, ideas were coming at me from everywhere.

I’d been writings scenes and odd chapters for about three months when I had a conversation with my sister that sparked the idea for my first novel, Claiming Noah. She told me about two people she knew who were using embryo donation to have a baby together. It’s the first I’d heard of it and as she answered my questions about how it all worked, I felt myself getting excited about the story I knew I wanted to write. But had this conversation happened a few months earlier, before I’d started writing, it never would have occurred to me to write about it. Who knows how many potential story ideas I missed out on over the years because I wasn’t looking for them?!

Since then I’ve learnt to pay attention and now I’m constantly on the look-out for ideas, characters and settings I can use in my next story. I write issues-based contemporary fiction, so I find inspiration in documentaries, podcasts, TED talks, newspaper articles. Social media is great for finding out what people are talking about.

And every time I come across something I find fascinating, I put it in a box that I keep on my desk. It’s filled with newspaper articles, photos and single scribbled words on scraps of paper. When it came time to start my second book I went through the box, picked out a couple of ideas I thought could work well together, and then spent some time thinking about what story I could create from those ideas. It came together fairly easily and my second novel was published earlier this year. Now I’m doing the same thing for my third book.

So the best advice I can give to someone who wants to write a book (but is waiting for a great idea first) is to just start writing. Don’t wait for the lightning bolt. It doesn’t matter if what you’re writing is boring, or clichéd, or zany. Write anything and everything, and once you start paying attention you’ll find that ideas are everywhere. As a writer, it’s your job to take notice of them and turn them into a story that people will want to read.

Amanda Ortlepp’s debut novel, Claiming Noah, was published in Australia and New Zealand in 2015. Its ethical dilemmas and emotionally-charged themes struck a chord with mothers and book clubs in particular, and it became a bestseller. Claiming Noah is now available in the US and Canada.

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