Coming up with ideas: An exercise in trust


I was thinking of this post when I wrote the comment over on Harvey Stanbrough’s blog on cycling during the first draft.  Both techniques very much require a lot of trust.

Ideas are squirrely things.

Partially because we’re taught that being creative isn’t a good thing.  Kids come up with all kinds of wacky flights of fantasy.

There’s a point where it scares the heck out of the adults.  They try to be well meaning, but they have an adult filter on it.  So when a kid  comes up with a wild idea, it tends to get discouraged.

One time—I don’t remember how old I was—I was messing around with a story.  The character was pregnant.  I don’t recall what inspired me, but no doubt some of it was all marketing to women at that time.  It was all about getting married and having kids.

But I had written part of story with “pregnant” in it.  Lines of dialogue and narrative.  It was kind of obvious it was a story. But my mother saw it and freaked.  She didn’t ask if it was a story.  Instead it was a very stern, “Are you pregnant?” Yikes!

Suddenly ideas become scary things that we’re not supposed to do.  That we should restrain ourselves.

As an adult, I started a mystery novel.  At the time, it was the only idea I had that I thought could fit a novel.  I got other ones, but these either turned into genre-less short stories (which is why I think a lot of people land in literary.  It’s a catchall when the writer allows the idea to control the direction of the story).

And I got these “flash in the pan” ideas.

I kept notebooks to record those ideas, like everyone said to do.  They were pocket notebooks I could carry around.  The ideas flashed bright, and I had to write them down right now so I wouldn’t forget.  Some demanded to be written. RIGHT NOW.

Those always ran about a page or two and then died.  Which is why I call them flash in the pan.  They sounded exciting until I tried to execute them and then they weren’t so exciting.

So I got stuck on the first novel, revising it so much it no longer resembled anything that I’d started with.  I revised because I kept getting stuck and I didn’t have any other book length ideas.

Enter co-writer.

He provided the idea.  We wrote the book.  I felt confident enough to come up with some ideas for the next book.  We were having problems by then (co-writer had fear of finishing, bad).  So he shot down my ideas.

It started out with, “That idea will never be a best seller.  We can’t do it.”

So I wound up back on my own and it was still a struggle to come up with ideas.  Then I took Dean Wesley Smith’s Ideas workshop.  It was really eye opening.  I’d been approaching ideas wrong.  Looking back, I think all those flash in the pan ideas were because my creative brain did not trust me to treat the ideas right.

I was passing on things as not good enough and expecting that an idea was supposed to be the full blown story.

What I use now has evolved from that workshop.  I just did a short story called Magic Tidyings.  It was inspired by a prompt about spring cleaning:

You’re a professional cleaner and the beginning of spring is always your busiest time.

I kept circling back to it and came up with:

Spring Cleaning + Tidying (Marie Kondo) + Magic

Then: Pirates + Ghosts.

I don’t get much flash in the pan ideas any more.  Creative brain trusts that I’m going to write the stories.  Maybe not today, but when it’s time.  And creative brain is really good about letting me know when it’s time.

By the time way, I plan to do a future GALCOM book with one of the ideas co-writer shot down:  Most Dangerous Game with a woman character.  No one’s really done it before, though Criminal Minds came close.  Why not?

And it is fun thinking about what I’m going to do.

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