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1. Getting the Idea

[The first in a series.]

The first step in the publication of my books was to come up with an idea in which I had a sustained interest, for which sufficient resource material was available, and that would interest enough readers to make it profitable for publishers to risk their money publishing it as a book.

I did not start out with the goal of writing a book. Rather, that became a goal after I had already invested a lot of time, effort, and research in pursuing a nagging interest. After having done all that, collected all that information, surely someone else was interested in learning it, in benefiting from my work. Maybe in the form of a book?

The ideas for both of my traditionally published books came from subjects in which I had (or developed) keen interest. If the subject doesn’t interest you, your writing will reflect your lack of interest and readers will not be as interested as you. If, though you are initially interested, your interest flags over time, then it’s probably not something you will enjoy over the long term (often years) required to do the necessary work. Choose your idea carefully, because by the time you’ve finished your manuscript you’ll probably be sick of it!


My first book arose from a spark of interest that was fanned to flame during a class I was taking in the history of the South. During my reading for the class, I discovered that few books had been written on the civilian government of the Confederacy. A lot has been written on the military engagements and the generals and Jefferson Davis but little on the executive offices in the cabinet. Everyone who had written articles on the civilian government quoted the same few sources, the most recent of which had been published more than 70 years earlier. I saw both the need and the possibility; therefore, I wrote an updated history of the Confederate cabinet departments and the men who served in each post.


The idea for my second book (which is in the publishing process as I write this, rough draft cover design shown) came from both my extensive reading of military history and personal Bible study. As I read about various wars and military engagements, I began to notice parallels between that history and the spiritual conflicts that all Christians experience. I wanted to study the topic primarily for my own edification, but the more I learned the more I realized that I should be sharing those lessons with others for their benefit, too.

Ideas, for not only books but also articles, come from all kinds of stimuli. Something you read. Something you hear in a sermon or overhear in a conversation. An idea may be broad or narrow. Ideas are all over the place, if we would just be observant and act upon the best of them. Even if you later decide that the idea is no good, that you aren’t committed to the idea for the long haul, or that insufficient information is available, no work on it is really lost. Some day, when you least expect it, that idea might blossom.

Famed author Ray Bradbury wrote, “If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. . . . The first thing a writer should be is–excited” (Zen in the Art of Writing).

Bradbury’s ideas came from his playing word association games with himself and writing down the ideas as short titles: “The Lake,” “The Attic,” “The Fog Horn,” etc. Years (sometimes even decades) later, those seed germs awoke interest within him and became stories and books.

The same can happen to you if you’ll only develop an awareness of the possibilities that lie all around you and wait patiently for the stories to develop in your subconscious. At the right time, they will, and you’ll be off and running, having taken that first step toward publication.


Your assignment: Look for ideas in the things around you. List them. Let them begin to marinate. Ruminate on them. Give them time to germinate. Then pounce on them, and write! It’s from such little acorns that great oaks grow.

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