People tend to ask writers where they get their ideas. I often have no clue how to answer that question. Perhaps it was the well-turned phrase of a dinner companion, an article I read, or even a film I watched. Maybe it didn’t come from any of those sources. It’s possible that I wanted to write about a specific topic, but I was waiting for the right opportunity to present itself. The dancing muse upon my shoulder whispered something in my ear, and then I had the audacity to shout, “Eureka! That’s perfect!”
I’m not the only writer who often sits back in awe of that miraculous crumb of a story. Where did it come from? It just appeared out of the ether. Maybe it crawled out of the corner of the wall there, from another dimension. Before I start to scare you, let me explain how the creative process works.
Imagine you’re a writer. One day, you’re going about your business, perhaps even concerned that the muse hasn’t blessed you for awhile. You keep hoping that maybe the ideas will come once your mind quiets down. Or, let’s say you’ve been working on a project now and then. You know you need to work on it more, but life just gets in the way. Bills, family, any kind of distraction you can imagine. The day wears on. You fall asleep as you normally would. A couple of hours later, you shoot up in bed, gasping.
Your partner, concerned, mumbles, “You okay? Bad dream?”
Nope. It’s not bad at all, actually the furthest thing from it. You scramble out of bed, heart pounding, eyes wide. Perhaps you have a journal or notebook somewhere nearby. You grab a pen and start scrawling across the page. This isn’t that flowery script you use in greeting cards. No, it’s that I-don’t-care-how-horrible-my-handwriting-is kind of font. You use every surface of the page you can cover, even write around the edges if necessary. It’s the kind of work that will make you shake your head when you try to type it up later. For now, it’s the freedom of that pen across the page. Or maybe your preferred medium is the keyboard, composing directly on your laptop. So, you click away, your fingers flying until the chaos that seized you is gone, until that scene or chapter is out of your head.
Once it’s on the page, you sit back and inhale deeply, then let that long breath out.
Cue the drama. Most likely, your hand is cramping by now and you start to entertain the idea that you have arthritis or carpal tunnel. You wonder how you’ll ever write again.
But maybe it doesn’t matter. That euphoria from before is starting to wear off, and you begin to think you just wasted ten, twenty minutes, even an hour on complete trash. With a deep breath, you look at your work and attempt to read through the illegible print. The internal editor is screaming to make changes. But then, somewhere in the mess, you see a picture forming on the page, a scene with characters and dialogue, even a sense of place, and it becomes a world you want to learn more about, an obsession of sorts. That’s when the moment of awe comes.
But there’s no time to bask. You have an idea, a story to write and it’s calling to you from the depths of your soul, the emotions of the characters tearing at your heart. You need to keep going, to find out what happens next. By then, your spouse is asking you to come back to bed, or your dog is barking. Your kid is asking for a glass of water. Reality returns, as it always does, and yet you have more clarity than you ever had before.
You’ve found your purpose. You know that this madness, even with your tired eyes and weary brain, is what you crave. And you feel a measure of peace because you’re where you are supposed to be. This is living – feeling the characters, the plot, living out the suspense of the story – that’s what compels you on this journey.
So, you ask where the ideas come from? From anywhere really – in a word, a song, a breath, a scenic landscape, the sound of the neighbor’s lawnmower – anything can be the catalyst for this soul-wrenching madness that steals upon us as writers. The blessing is that it happens, often when we least expect it, but it does happen. It can occur when we’re doing the most mundane tasks – in the shower, while we’re drying our hair, washing the dishes, even making a sandwich. In the work of a moment, the ordinary can become extraordinary. It takes us away to another world where we can play different parts and feel rampant emotions. And if we’re not crying, sighing, seething with anger or laughing along with our characters, then we’re not doing our jobs.
Still we go back to it, writing. We can’t dismiss the call because ignoring it is a pain we can’t endure.
Where do the stories come from? From observations. From you, the readers. We write about the human condition, striving to capture the whims and woes of people everywhere. Without our senses, we can’t feel these things or write about them. And we rely upon the audience to keep driving us to do better, to delve deeper. We’re not in control really; we don’t hold the puppet strings for our characters. The truth is that they control us. The muse is what we wait on, inspiration just within our grasp.
And when that crumb finally appears, we take it and fly with it, absorbed in its power, enamored of the characters created from it and the tales weaved from the fabric there. It is compelling and something we can’t live without. We strive to live in those fantasy worlds along with our readers.
The call will come, and we wait for it with every breath, and in every action we take.
Thank you for letting me visit, Viv Drewa. I’ll sign off now and hope that the muse visits me soon enough, drives me to tell the next tale in my character’s journey.