Imagine the scene, it is morning and you’ve just sat down to write, you are all fired up, your mind is fizzing with millions of possibilities, a computer (or pen and paper) are in front of you, it beckons you to start weaving your magic, you raise your hands over the keyboard and then…..
All authors get asked where their ideas from. It is a question that they dread, it is as a speeding truck is to a rabbit. And the worse thing? There is no actual answer. It is as singer/songwriter Jake Bugg says, “When you are writing songs, you’re making something new. You’re making something out of nothing.”
Newbie writers rather naively assume that ideas are ten a penny, that they can call the cosmic UPS and get a batch of freshly baked ideas delivered straight into their heads pronto.
The truth is not so rosy.
Inspiration is something that must be worked upon. You have to use your brain in order to find that one elusive idea which will get your fingers tap-dancing across your keyboard in a flash. Sometimes an idea will land in your mind fully formed but this is as rare as hen’s teeth or Katie Price writing her own books. Don’t rely on it solely or you will be in trouble, but always take advantage of it when it does happen.
So how do you go about it?
1: Just Bloody Write!
One way of developing ideas and concepts is to just write whatever comes into your head, to take a notebook on your way to work and invent stories about the passengers on the bus/tube. Inspiration can come out if anywhere, even a mundane bus trip. More than a few authors will gladly admit that their novel came out of this type of writing exercise.
This is my own effort:
The old man came onto the bus with a plastic plaid laundry bag slung over one shoulder. Pausing only to flash his bus pass, he quietly shuffled to a seat at the rear of the bus and sat down.
Not looking outside or indeed at anything in particular, the old man just sat there head-down with the bag resting upon his lap, his hands caressing the plastic surface while his wife’s disembodied head stiffened with rigor mortis inside.
This brings me rather neatly to…
2: The juxtaposition of two or more seemingly unrelated ideas
What started off as a rather normal old man quietly going about his own business suddenly became something quite different when I added a new idea to the mix.
Two ideas meshing together to form a new whole. And from those two unrelated ideas, anything could come out of this scenario. Whilst not enough for a novel perhaps, it is certainly enough material for a short story. The inspiration was an old man but what makes this a story is the off-beat notion that he is carrying his wife’s head in a bag. Why? How? See how this story could continue?
A lot of writers have an idea in their heads which they might carry around for years, a seed of thought which they will pick at chickenlike. But it can take another idea to cause it to suddenly grow. It is not a quick process but it is one of the beast sources for inspiration.
For example, for the last decade, I have been planning and thinking about a series of novels which would be akin to a steampunk Lord of the Rings but with time travel, parallel universes and a talking cat. As you can imagine, I have probably bitten off more that I can chew. But from this mess, the concept smacked off another idea that appeared in my head out of nowhere, bounced about like a pinball before settling fully-formed as a brand new idea in my head. I was then inspired to write nearly three-hundred pages of what is basically Lord of the Rings with mice set under the floorboards of a flat at the top of a high-raise tower block. Redwall with balls, if you will. This second idea may seem as strange and complicated as the first idea but what is important is this: it gave me the kick up the arse that I so desperately needed.
3:Taking a current situation and letting your imagination do doo–wah–diddy–diddy with it
This is really just a combination of the first two sections but rephrased. You know, like a bad Hollywood sequel.
Take a current situation and then add an unrelated idea (or extrapolate from it) and voila!
Not as simple as it sounds but this type of inspiration stares you in the face each day, just waiting for a writer to take advantage of it and ply it with drinks. You can find it on the news, newspapers, scientific journals, anywhere. Three of the best places to find this inspiration is BBC news, New Scientist and National Geographic.
Now you have your idea, what next? Ideas are all very well but without actually writing it down it ias just an idle thought in your head. Remember my ten-year-old idea? You don’t want to go down that route, believe me. Set yourself real goals. Don’t just say you will write it one day because you will suddenly realise that you have waited ten years to write too.
At the end of the day, if you truly want to be a writer, you have to sit down and write one word after another after another until you finish. Writing is hard work and if you believe it is just about sitting on a chaise longue, smoking scented cigarettes from an ebony cigarette-holder while you dictate to your mute servant boy…think again.
Writing is not all sex and violets, it is a process of hard work where you are taxing both your imagination and creativity to create a story which hopefully compels people to keep reading once they srtart it. It is bloody hard work but oh god when you finish, that feeling is like no other, like sex without the five minutes of frantic squidginess…erm…yeah.
Don’t worry too hard about imagination though. It is like riding a bike, the more you do it, the better you will become. If ghost-bluffer Derek Acorah can make up stories, so can you. And don’t be afraid to let your imagination run away from you, listen carefully to it and write it all down. A good rule of thumb is this: write with passion, edit coldly.
One final tip, when you have your first draft, don’t be tempted to read through it for a week or so. You need to let your mind relax. When you come back to it, you can reread your work with a fresh mind. Plus, don’t be scared if it it absolute rubbish. Because it will be, I promise. No writer ever writes a first draft that sparkles like a diamond. That is the beauty of the second draft, you can fix all the mistakes, turn shit to gold and no one will be none the wiser.
So whatcha waiting for? Get writing!