On Ideas and Creativity – The Unexpected Guest
How and where do authors get their ideas? Ideas for new stories, for current stories they’re working on, for things that need fixing, for outcomes, endings, conflicts and their solutions, for characters and settings … everything that makes a story.
For some authors, what we call brainstorming may be useful, but I find that for me — as in the creation of a whole story — I have to let ideas come to me instead of chasing them.
The most fruitful situations are when doing light manual work that doesn’t need to much thought, like gardening, cleaning, or driving the car. I can let my thoughts wander, jump from here to there, watch them pick up loose ends by themselves and assemble in ways I did neither plan nor intentionally influence. As with stories, they just happen. I may have been thinking about some completely different problem or event, and suddenly, there pops up the idea I needed, which can mean a breakthrough, a loophole or simply a new aspect I didn’t see and emphasise before in a story.
Another scenery that gives new ideas easy access to my brain is when putting the children to bed. Not during the hassle of teeth-brushing and clothes-changing, of course, but when finally darkness swallows the room and its precious inhabitant, when literally peace and quiet take over and the two breathings slow down in tune. When my eyes can only see the colourless shapes, my mind unwinds and thoughts start to stroll. I think it is the peace and relaxation paired with no more distractions, visual or auditive. Yoga taught me that breathing is perfect to focus on your inside. I am not that good at it in class, though, my thoughts always seem to wander away for free play instead of focus on my body, but with the help of my child’s peaceful breathing, the lovely shape of a tiny body under a blanket, soft hair sticking out, and just general darkness, ideas suddenly start to flood in. I can sit there long after my son or daughter fell asleep, swept away in deep thought over something that just befell me.
It is wonderful when that happens. I sit rooted, staring into darkness, watching new ideas tiptoe around or jump in my face. Things fall into place, start to make sense in a way I could never have consciously forced it to happen. It is exhilarating. Once I decide I’ve seen enough to get up and make notes, stumbling and bumping into things due to a numb leg or two, creativity is flowing freely. The ideas may not make sense in all aspects and the bigger sense of the current story, but it is usually enough to get the ‘creative juices flowing’, as my writing buddy puts it. In most cases, it’s that ‘heureka’ moment where I find a solution or twist I could never have brainstormed.
The third possibility for ideas to hit home is right after sleep, or just before sliding to full consciousness on waking. So they have to stem from a dream, right? Do I dream the best plotlines? I can truthfully list at least four or five stories, most of them novel-length, that just fell onto my sleeping chest like the Norse nightmare-causing dark elf. I slowly wake, in the process trying to burn into my dizzy brain as much of the story as possible, and as vivid as it is only right after its unforced birth. Usually, I hold my breath and in slow-motion rise and sneak out of the room, to not wake any of the other sleepers (with such dreamed stories, I am always the first to wake), repeating in my mind the most important turning points I need to get the whole thing on paper (or keyboard). That way, I assembled half a dozen long-wound story ideas of several genres, most of them — who would have thunk it — crime or thriller. What does that say about the nature of my sleep and dreams? 😉
This doesn’t mean I shape all those ideas into publishable novels. It just goes to show that I am not a plotter at all. Stories befall me. Ideas come to me like unexpected guests I rush off to make room for in our most comfortable chair, so they may stay a while and talk to me.
And when I work hard — also to YOU.
What is the best way for you to get ideas? Have you tried different approaches? Do you have to wait and just set a mood to invite ideas in, or is your plotline the result of planning? Or do you find a mix of both most fruitful? Let me know in the comments below!
If you want to learn more about what other writers do to catch the spark of inspiration, go to my Useful Links page here.