One of the most common questions I’m asked, once I tell people I’m a writer, is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ As a writer, I have to put myself in other people’s shoes, imagine what they are thinking, if I’m going to write convincing characters but I think this is the concept I find hardest to grasp. Are there really people out there who don’t have heads full of story ideas? How can you avoid them?
I have to make a conscious effort to filter things out; the mental equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and shouting ‘lalalalalala’, because otherwise I would never be able to concentrate on real life. An abundance of ideas has led me to missing my bus stop, finding myself walking in a different direction from the one I meant to go, and losing huge chunks of conversation because the shiny thoughts in my head are much more compelling. It’s a problem.
For example, I’m currently typing this in the archives of York Library. There are some thick, red and gold bound reference book son the shelf; Burke’s Peerage and Who’s Who, and they are making me think of magical grimoires, the power of influence, what it might be like to find out you are related to someone famous (or infamous). The table I am sat at is wooden and has the glow of much polished age, it makes me wonder who else has sat here, what were they working on, what decisions did they make.
Then of course there are the other people; I wonder what they might be doing here? Working? Studying? Whiling away the time because they have lost their job and haven’t yet told their spouse? There’s a man sat in front of me with his head in his hands, quite dejected. I wonder what is troubling him.
Just to appease any concerns from friends; I don’t usually use ‘real’ people in my books. The characters in my stories pop into my head, fully formed and start talking to me. (Yes, I just admitted to hearing voices in my head; don’t worry, even if they do tell me to do bad things, I’ll only write about them.)
I’m sure there must have been times in my life when I’ve been bored, but in all honesty if I’m given a bit of time to sit in quiet and just retreat into my mind and see what’s going on in there? I love it. I think that’s why I’m always early for appointments, buying myself more ‘wasted’ time to wander and wonder inside my head.
Thoughts and ideas can come from anywhere, and the really interesting ones stick around. Eventually, other thoughts stick to them until they have enough weight to become a story idea. When that happens, I can sit down with a blank screen, flex my fingers and ‘tune in’ to the idea. I usually have an idea of where to start, sometimes all I have is an opening line. I begin, and find out along the way where the idea finishes. I often surprise myself with the subtext of the story that emerges on the way.
I know other writers who plan, who need to know the detail, define all the characters, and then weave their stories with great craft. It’s not like that for me. Creating a new story isn’t work, it’s sheer pleasure. It flows from me in bursts of sheer exhilaration.
Editing? Urgh. Now that is hard work.