Author Shannon Messenger Talks About How She Comes Up With Original Ideas and What She Eats While Writing Novels

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Answers by Shannon Messenger, Author, Keeper of the Lost Cities series, on Quora.

Ha--honestly? Despite how much I tweet about my love of cupcakes, I rarely eat while I'm writing. After all, it's kinda counterproductive (I should be using my fingers to type, not snack!)

I'm also notorious for falling down the drafting rabbit hole and suddenly it's dinnertime and I haven't eaten all day (side note: yes, I'm aware that I take rather poor care of myself).

But one thing I will do--especially on days where a chapter is refusing to cooperate and I want to throw my laptop into the street and back over it with my car: I'll set up a reward system. I'll buy myself a favorite box of chocolates or some other indulgent treat, and I'll make a deal with myself that I only get to eat one when I write a certain number of words (generally 1000). It's amazing how much easier it is to power through a stubborn scene when there's chocolate waiting for me at the end.

This is hard, because it is true that there aren't any 100% new ideas out there--but that doesn't give you an excuse to blatantly copy other things.

One of my biggest tricks is to rely on my characters, since no two people are the same. So even if something that happens in my story has happened in something else, it can still feel fresh and new because we're seeing it through a unique perspective with individualized reactions and responses.

I also think it's important to separate what's "universal" from what's "story specific." So there's nothing wrong with saying, "I want to write about wizards" since there are LOTS of wizard stories. But saying "I want to write about a wizard with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead because an evil wizard tried to kill him as a baby" falls into the "not cool" category.

Fresh eyes are also super-important for this. There have definitely been times when I didn't notice a similarity until a beta reader pointed it out to me. And when that happens--no matter how much you may love what you wrote--do the right thing and make some changes.

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