I’m currently performing in a production of Elf the Musical. It’s basically the movie but with singing and they cut the Papa Elf character.
For those of you wholly unfamiliar with Elf, the basic premise is a baby climbs into Santa’s sack, is raised at the North Pole, and thirty years later goes searching for his human father. His father happens to be in children’s publishing and now you’re caught up enough for this blog post to make sense.
In the show, the father is tasked with coming up with a blockbuster Christmas book idea in only a few days. So he and his two best staff writers sit around in a conference room for hours trying to hammer out a good idea, and inevitably fail.
I, as a writer, have some big questions about this process.
They have staff writers—which I can maybe buy the publisher having some in house projects—but they’re searching for a great idea for a Christmas book and no one skims the slush pile? They’re supposed to be a major publisher, which means they’ve got to have a few hundred Christmas submissions not even the intern has touched. If they’re so desperate for an idea, why don’t they look at the slush pile? Drives me crazy!
And since they’ve decided to ignore the major resource of all outside submissions, they just sit around a table trying to think of something? Since when has sitting around a table made the brain work? How is that an accurate depiction of how new books come into being? Why would professional staff writers think staring at a blank sheet of paper was going to work? Isn’t that something we all get over after our first failed draft? Have the staff writers never written anything before?
Elf is a happy Christmas show, so obviously everything ends well and the book idea becomes a best seller. But every day, I wonder if our audience members are going to hold onto that concept of the publishing process, and how that makes them view authors like myself.
Or maybe I’m misjudging. Maybe the next time I have to think of a great idea I should just stare at a blank piece of paper for a few days.
How do you think the best ideas come about? Has the blank sheet method ever worked for you?