Last night I mentioned to a friend’s wife that I was writing a novel. Why I did this is a very good question but another rant. She asked me where I get my ideas.
I was completely at a loss for words. I mumbled something like ‘I don’t know’ and tried to change the subject. The real truth was it was a question I’d never even considered. For writers, as with other creative people, ideas are all over the place. A reflection in a window, an overheard conversation, a memory, one too many drinks, a sports high- anything triggers an idea. The problem is not how to get an idea but what to do with those you have.
When I was drinking heavily I would often write my flashes of genius on bar napkins so I would remember them in the morning. This was inevitably a terrible idea as those brilliant concepts were typically illegible gibberish or the single dumbest concept imaginable. I would look at them with trepidation as I pulled them out of my pocket while getting dressed. I can honestly say that the view they gave me into my charming drunken self contributed to my desire to get away from that world.
Ideas are only one thing. Starting points, triggers if you will. If you don’t use them as such, they fade away. Yet I know many wannabe creative people who get an idea and savor it, then make it their child, then make it their crutch. They become dependent on it but they never act on it.
When you do act on it, it also fades because its job is done. It started something and it no longer provides the DNA for what is to come. Work does that. So what about writer’s block and its equivalents in the other arts? What about it? The only way through a block is to put your head down and keep going without self-criticism. Just keep nagging your way through. You eventually emerge out into the open.
When you do it’s often not where you expected to be, in fact it is almost always someplace you’ve never been. This is the gift of getting blocked but you only get there by working through. You can’t get there through therapy, drinking, complaining to your girlfriend or boyfriend, not doing anything or staring at the ceiling. Take a walk, then when you get home, write something. Write ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ if that’s all you got. You’ll get bored soon enough and start writing something else to relieve that boredom.
So, of course, this morning when I thought about my friend’s wife’s question I had a clever answer. I’ll save it in case I ever get asked that really odd question again.
“So where do you get your ideas?”
“At the Idea Store of course.”
Then I can change the subject.