Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Where do you get your ideas?

The weird thing about being sick is in the getting better.

Recently, I was sick for a week with strep. Not the horrible kind that attacks the heart and kidneys (thanks for that information, Dr. Smith), the other kind that you don't have to treat unless the symptoms are really bad.

My symptoms weren't bad, they like were mob thugs at a bank robbery. For several days I simply stared straight ahead thinking of nothing.

Literally nothing. I had no thought beyond the immediate moment (although, if pressed, I would have been able to tell you where my children were and what time they were expected to be back home).

Sunday I started feeling better. The reason I knew I was improving was that my brain kicked into gear. Lying on the sofa, I said those magic words of healing to my husband, "You know what would be a good idea. . . ?"

I flipped through a recipe book and decided I needed to make 12 pints of roasted garlic and red pepper pasta sauce.

I re-plotted the reveal sequence for a novel I'm working on.

I thought of a new idea for a blog.

I wrote a blog post about my daughter.

I conceived of an idea for a non-fiction book and worked through most of the proposal in one afternoon.


Where did these ideas come from?

It's tempting to reach for the close at hand answer, I rested, so when better my brain revved into high gear. Or even that chestnut, My subconscious was at work on all these things while I wasn't thinking about them. Prove that one if you can.

Once, a man at a writer's event asked a question about where ideas come from. He said it like this, "I've heard it said that great writers are the ones who steal the best material." Maybe he was bitter, or wondering how close to plagiarism he could venture before being cast out of the writer's community for life. Either way, the question irked me. I wasn't anyone important in the room, so I kept my yap shut. The two women who fielded the question were too rattled to answer properly.

But he hit on something about the nature of ideas. Where do they come from?

I think, in part, they come from the things, ideas, books, films, art, phrases, eavesdropped conversations, joke books, and dream a person has the good fortune to encounter.

On the face of it, pulling out an idea and turning it into a story sounds like stealing. But only on the face of it.

I think inspiration serves as an anchor for what otherwise would remain so nebulous, so amorphous it is in danger of remaining indescribable. What's more, a single novel isn't the result of a single inspiration, rather is is the test of the writer's ability to survey her personal topography of inspiration, and pull on many, many little anchors from far reaching corners, and draw them together so they form a unique, new inspiration.

Where do ideas come from? Everywhere. That's the easy part.
The trick is riding the range of impressions, lassoing those wandering anchors, and dragging them home, their ribbons of meaning trailing behind.

I bid you good writing.

1 comment:

Cherry Odelberg said...

Yes, well, that pretty much sums it up!