Posted by Mardi Jo Link in fiction, memory, writers, writing on April 21, 2015
I’ve just come down off the high of presenting at Rally For Writers, a terrific annual writers conference here in Michigan, and this question came up several times. Now that I think about it, this question comes up whenever experienced writers mix with inexperienced ones.
I have a very distinct memory of asking John Robert Lennon where his ideas came from. It was the summer of 2005, I’d enrolled in a small fiction workshop and he was my instructor. He said he guessed his ideas arrived in various ways, and then listed dreams, eavesdropping, and passenger pigeon as three possible modes of delivery. He was a good teacher, but at the time I thought it a sardonically amusing, if wholly unsatisfying, answer.
A decade later, I understand what he meant. It was a dodge.
Experienced writers I talk with today say they don’t know where their ideas come from, only that they do. They say they have too many ideas, not too few. Immortality would not solve this problem, because the ideas would just keep coming, on and on, into infinity.
I feel this exact same way. Just this week I’ve had a bunch of ideas for writing projects. A 13-year-old boy using Don Quixote as a guide for surviving adolescence might be a good premise for a novel; a series of essays about my true crime research sounded good, too, plus would be super interesting to write; and then — what about those two fifty-year-old brothers who froze to death near here in their tent? What was the deal with them?
The writer Neil Gaiman has a good post about ideas here.
By next week, I know the ideas that sound good to me now will be replaced by other, newer, more exciting-seeming ones, and replaced again the week after that. I also know that one will eventually arrive that I can’t let go of, or that won’t let me go, and that it will grow and build until it dominates my life (writing and otherwise) for the foreseeable future.
What makes ideas ubiquitous for experienced writers and a thing of mystery and magic to inexperienced ones is that writing begets more writing. Once you make writing part of your everyday life, and by that I mean you write every day, then writing becomes not just something you do, but something you are.
And when that happens, the ideas will be everywhere.