Thursday, January 3, 2008
Where do YOUR babies come from?
“It may come as a surprise to those who don’t care for my work that I’d hardly ever doubted the significance of any idea I’d had, and I’d had very few ideas. I’d written twelve finished works. I’d had fourteen ideas.” Jane Smiley
“I have an idea once every 19 years…” Overheard on NPR
ROBERTA: A couple of months ago, I spent the weekend with my writer friend SW Hubbard to brainstorm our works in progress. We worked on the details of her thriller and then it was my turn.
“So the character is a woman psychologist,” I said, “and she’s written a self-help book that’s starting to gain momentum. She’s a guest on a radio talk show, and someone from her past calls in. She recognizes the voice.” Then I stopped and waited.
“Yeah, then what happens?”
“That’s it,” I said. “That’s all I’ve got.”
“Who’s the voice from the past?”
“I don’t know, that’s all I’ve got,” I repeated.
She tried to help me out with a number of leading questions but I’d hit a wall. Why is it, I wondered, that other writers seem to toss off an idea a minute? Take my friend, Lori Avocato. Spend a couple hours with her and she’ll have 3 or 4 ideas for books just in that short time span.
I do keep a file folder full of headlines and articles from newspapers and magazines. But I can leaf through all of them and end up with nothing. Zippo. Nada. Zero.
So that’s my question for the day—I want your secrets! Where do you get your ideas and what tricks do you use to keep them coming?
JAN: This is my trick. When all I should be doing is focusing on the end of whatever book I'm writing, all I can think about is the GREAT IDEAS I have for the next book.
But honestly, most of my ideas come from the newspaper or a real event. Or some social ill that's been bothering me for a long time. Like gambling and the lottery. Kids on the Internet. Or the potential for a scam or heist.
The murders are harder. I really hate to think about people taking a life.
HANK: Oh please. Don't bring this up now. Or maybe, do. At this very instant, I'm pleading with my brain for an idea. You have to picture me, sitting at my computer. Arms limp, slumped, head on the back of the chair. Eyes to the ceiling. Imploring the universe to present me with something. I can think of a million million ideas, but they aren't good enough. Boring. Derivative. Silly. No payoff.
I like to remember Thomas Edison--you know, who was encouraged and inspired when his first 2000 (or whatever) ideas for what to use in a light bulb didn't work. He said--now I know 2000 things that don't work. And that's so revealing about how things get invented. Like books.
But (and I hope this stays true) sometimes I just think and think and think. Deeply deeply think. Try Hallie's "what if" exercises. And then, I let go. Do something else. And soon after, something bubbles to the surface.
HALLIE: Hank is right about that bubbling when you're not trying thing. Always it's in the shower, or in the car, or when and I'm up to my wrists in bread dough. Or or or... the solution sometimes is to shake things up, to get out of my comfort zone and go somewhere or do something that isn't part of my usual day to day. Like...go to a Star Trek convention. Or a Tupperware party. Or a rocket launching. Once I HAVE a good idea, then definitely brainstorming with friends (what iffing it to death) is a huge help.
JAN: It's so true. I always say I get my best ideas on Route I-95. I think just like athletes play better when they are "loose," writers think more creatively when they are relaxed. Maybe the analytical part of the brain has to be silenced to let the creative side of the brain be free.
RO: I'm definitely a "ripped from the headlines" kind of gal - no, let me rephrase that. Not the headlines. My fave place to prospect for ideas is in the back of the paper. The tiny story that most people never read. The local misdemeanor that (at least in my "what if" scenario) is the cover-up for the bigger, deadlier crime.
Another thing I enjoy doing is ripped from a movie -The Usual Suspects - one of my faves. In it the Kevin Spacey character, the infamous Kayser Sosa, deceives the police by weaving an entire story out of the items in the cop's own office. Brilliant. I've yet to name a character after the manufacturer of my coffee mug, but it's a fun exercise and always gets me thinking.
ROBERTA: ok, now time for the rest of you to step up and tell us where YOUR babies come from!