Ideas can come from anywhere and from many places. Rarely (at least for me) is a story idea generated from just one thought, but from an odd collection of seemingly random information or experiences.
Today I completed reading a remarkable book, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. It was the acknowledgments at the end that really struck me though. The author, Robert Dugoni, tells the story of how the idea for this novel came about. As a writer I relate to his experience about how ideas develop. In his acknowledgment, we learn about his growing up with a “special needs” sibling who was “different,” his Catholic upbringing and a news article he came across about a child with ocular albinism; all topics relevant to the novel and collected over time.
An especially important point that he makes, that all writers, myself included, need to remember, is that “a first draft is written for the writer and should never be shared with anyone.” That goes right along with Terry Pratchett’s quote: “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
THINKING IS WRITING
I am not sure if non-writers really understand the process; that even when we are not writing, we are writing. Recently, I was part of a conversation with fellow writers where we all agreed that thinking is writing. If you happen to share a household with a writer (God bless you), you may laugh and joke about this; you may see this as an excuse to not write. You would be wrong.
LAUNDRY IS WRITING
Stepping away from the desk to throw in a load of laundry is writing. Gardening and pulling weeds is writing. Even sitting among friends and listening to conversation can be writing. We are sneaky people, us writers! You never know when an idea is growing in our heads! But seriously, sometimes we need to get up and move around, perform a menial task to allow ideas to evolve.
WRITING IS A PROCESS
Writing is a process, something I was constantly reminding my students when I was a teacher and a librarian. You cannot skip steps! One of the most important steps, if not the most important is thinking.
Story ideas happen in an instant and simultaneously develop in the writers’ mind over a long period of time. Bits come to us from unexpected places sometimes, and sometimes they are right there in front of us having been with us forever. Ideas are not born whole and complete; they gestate. They begin as a seed and slowly grow until one day you have a story, whole with a beginning, middle and end. Ideas have no sense of time; they come upon us at once, in a flash and also slowly like molasses in the wintertime. This is why writers carry little notebooks. This is why we often appear distracted.
Currently, I am working on a short story whose ideas derived from many sources. I had an idea for the story based on a news article that ignited my imagination. Thinking about it brought up memories of events that actually happened to me. I took those events and molded them to fit the story, gave them meaning. I created a character who embodies what I believe to be some basic truths about humanity.
That story is not yet ready to be “born,” but it’s getting there. I have messes to clean up, the timeline is jumbled, and kinks to straighten. I have not completed the process. Non-writers have commented to me that writing must be fun for me. It can be. Most of the time it’s more like someone is ripping your fingernails off. Slowly. Still, it’s worth it.