I read a lot of interviews of PUBLISHED AUTHORS. They’ve been there, done that. They’re doing it. They’ve crested the hill and have seen what’s on the other side, and I want to know what it looks like, how to prepare for the journey, tips on packing, dealing with blisters, et cetera.
But one thing they all seem to cite as their No. 1 Most Asked (and Most Perplexing) Question is, “Where do you get your ideas?”
It’s a funny question really. And I think it’s probably one that most young writers feel compelled to ask because they’re looking at The Author, and they’re looking at Their Body of Work, and they’re wondering how did they construct whole universes out of simple air molecules.
But I have a question that doesn’t seem to be asked very often: “How do you manage all the ideas?” Because if they’re anything like me — and I imagine that most writers are in this regard — then they’ve got loads and loads of ideas all over the house, Post-It Notes feathered across computer screens, stashed at the bottoms of purses on gum wrappers, and scrawled across the envelopes of junk mail.
When I’m on top of things — which is as often as The Great Conjunction — I have a little memo pad I carry around, and I periodically transfer my scribbles into easy-to-swallow idea tablets on the word processor. The thing is, if I don’t do this before the expiration date, the ideas can often go stale or even bad, especially depending on how clear my scribbles were to begin with.
The other day I was snooping through my phone and discovered a whole bunch of ideas I had punched in during my daily walk when I apparently didn’t have any pen and paper. These are way past the expiration date. Let me give you some examples:
- Man running alongside car, scary (image)
- Bridge trolls
- Michael Newton, journey/destiny of stars (?)
- Discovery – origami program (?)
- Esquivel – El Cable (awesome song)
- Joan the mad – Juana la Loca (?)
- Skeptic’s wife the medium (character idea)
- Porcelain by Moby (another awesome song)
- When they find my fossils – Kilo (my crazy friend’s outlandish words)
- Lovers of the Arctic Circle (sounds lovely, I wonder who they are)
- Good-bye, Lenin (??)
- Earthquake: a god is being born (self-explanatory)
- Dogs in the wind (imagery)
- Stupid chicken tricks (WTF?!)
- Dialogue: Why so mad? It’s the reefer madness. (?)
- Coven that hosts regular tea parties
- Maceo Hernandez, Japanese drummer
- Suburban safari (I picture tourists hanging out of Land Rovers to take snapshots of the local yokels, an ugly bunch)
Now, this is not a list of my best ideas, but they were definitely ideas that at one time I thought important enough to write down before I forgot them. And in some of the cases…well, I forgot them. Like crazy chicken tricks. I really wish I could remember that one.
The thing is, almost every single note is a seed of a story, a character, a setting, an image, a metaphor. And I’ve got thousands of them. Literally. In boxes. Stacked in a corner of my dining room. And beneath my writing desk. (And I have a sneaking suspicion they have raucous, unprotected sex and produce even more cryptic notes for me to scratch my head over.)
Some of them have held up well with age, and finding them is like unearthing alien relics. Others are puzzles, and well worth puzzling over.
And they’re still coming. Every day, a new one arrives in the tray of my stroller, in the news, stuck to the bottom of my shoe, and even waving at me from the top of a church bell tower. Some days, they arrive in mass immigration, anting across deserts over and under my borders, arriving in packed boats to my harbors, and even coyoting under my nose in huge unmarked vans.
The question is not, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s, “How do you make room for all that company?”
Besides the obvious, making yourself sit down on a regular basis and flesh them out enough so that they make sense — stupid chicken tricks <grumble> — there’s the other obvious solution: write like crazy!
If you don’t, the seeds will wither, dry up, and your forgotten ideas will end up floating lost in the ether, unfulfilled and wasted. And that’s a very, very sad thing. So put out the welcome mat for the new ideas, and then get busy writing! That is why we’re here, right?