There is a point in every writer’s life, sometimes several points, sometimes all in the same day, where the question is asked: Where do you get your ideas?
My imagination is always on, so I’m constantly thinking about retooling stuff, flipping ideas on their heads, stabbing them with sharp forks and dull knives to see what makes them bleed and cry. I daydream – A LOT. I imagine conversations with people I know, fantastic events in the office where people are swallowed whole by dragons the size of d20 dice. You’d think it would interfere with my work, and you’d be right. What I have to actually remember to do is write these fascinating things down in my notebooks, so when I sit at my computer at midnight (the only time I have to myself to actually write) I can remember that shiny bit of flotsam that would make a great story. I say this because I know there are people out there who find what I do exotic. “I couldn’t ever do that” they say, “you know, just sit down and write,” and while this may be true from a position of skill, from a point of sheer imagination, I can’t grok it. I don’t understand scrapbook and yet …
Every writer approaches this question differently, from a flip wave to a dissertation on the abstract workings of the Superego exerting its influence on the less wary and therefore more pliable ID. No matter how sincere we try to come off, it always sounds like we’re hiding this deep dark secret so only we can be rich.
In Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story,of which you’ll see occasional quotes in the random header, Scott Landon metaphorically wades out into the “myth pool” and comes up with his fabulous stories. I don’t have a myth pool, or even a myth spritzer fan, but I understand the concept of imagination being a vast body of water that some people just aren’t cut out to navigate. Sometimes the ideas caught in a net or a cup are wee little minnows, to either be tossed back or used as bait for larger game. Occasionally though, you wrestle with something a little bigger than your net can handle, in which case you either call for reinforcements (collaboration) or let it go for someone else.That being said, I’m not a water person.
My ideas come from odd places – an overheard conversation, my brain playing an endless game of what-if, seeing something on television and wondering why the writer didn’t do it *this* way, etc… My best ideas are spawned from a bright blast of inspiration, which is why I carry six notebooks around with me to jot and doodle.
Sometimes, however, the origins of ideas are so extremely personal that when asked about them, the immediate impulse is to blush, toe the dirt and mumble something about not remembering.
I can almost remember the origin of every story I’ve ever written:
The Caretaker came from an article about unlicensed day care in the City; I Do This was a writer’s challenge based on a short Dear John letter; And On The Seventh Day was born from trying to put into words a perfect lazy Sunday.
Some are obvious – Gabriel’s Assistant from my days as a cashier, Walkies from one of my daily treks around the block. Some are private – very private and I wonder how I would answer if someone asked me exactly where that idea came from.
I’m thinking about this as I read a certain story from a certain anthology. Is anything too hot or disgusting or politically incorrect? What is the impetus for committing to paper some ideas?
The answer to that is fairly simple – it has to be done.
When I began writinglast year, the seedling was a continuation of a well-loved children’s tale. I’d created a new character, one of the protagonists, but she had a character trait so disturbing, I had to set the whole story it aside so I could deal with it at another time. It bothered me that much. I was in the middle of writing one of her intro paragraphs, so completely in the moment of her and the scene – and then IT happened. I saw the rest of the scene play itself out in my mind and I felt sick to my stomach. I saved what I had, shut off the computer and seriously wondered what the hell was wrong with me. After several months, I’d gotten over that creepy, nauseous feeling and reached an understanding with her. She would have to be who she was for her to participate in this story, and I was going to have to get over it, or else she’d haunt my head for a long, long time. From her traits sprung three new story ideas, each a little more twisted that the original. If you were to ask me now where I got the idea for any of those stories, I suppose I could launch into a long exposition of the hows and whys, citing the original work and drawing parallels to my idea, and somewhere around the third PowerPoint slide, you would deliberately wander into oncoming traffic.
Or I could tell you that voraphiles need love too. Either way, you’d stop taking my calls.
So I’m not going to ask that fellow writer where that particular idea for that story came from. Everyone’s myth pool is different, and the nets are either tightly knotted or have holes large enough to jump dolphins through. Every time we reveal that pool to someone else, we lose a little of its magic, and you don’t really want to know, anyway. That you already know I don’t have a pool takes a little of the shine off me, doesn’t it?
That’s why you’ll always get from me, “I have a screw loose.” At least you’ll still take my calls.