One of the most frustrating things about being an intelligent, widely read person who isn’t a genius is having to deal with the perpetual state of a head full of thought-forms and idea-particles and mind-sparks that are fascinating and intriguing and illuminating but that stubbornly refuse to gel into anything concrete or useful.
Now I can’t know for sure, but I suspect that if I was a genius — a true, spectacular, few-in-a-generation, genuinely brilliant mind — my problem would be…exactly the bloody same.
If you read a lot of writing on writing by writers, you will be well familiar with the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s infamous. It has become sort of a parody of a parody at this point. Supposedly, writers hate the question, and this is something everyone knows, and yet writers are still asked this all the time. Fans asks this for two main reasons:
- They want to generate the kind of ideas their favorite authors come up with, and
- They are baffled as to how to do it.
Better to ask an elephant how it got those lovely trunks. Because the terrible truth is that they are basically the same question. Writers — particular those in the more speculative and abstractly creative genres like SF and fantasy and all of their twisted, steam-powered, sparkle-dripping spawn– don’t go look for ideas so that they can become writers. They become writers because they have so many ornery and insistent ideas that won’t shut up until they write them down.
I wonder how often professional writers are asked the much more interesting and useful question: “How do you stop getting ideas?”
A few weeks ago I wrote a story about having writer’s block, because I was suffering from writer’s block. A reader left a comment that if my way of dealing with writer’s block is to transform it into a fantasy story then that is an unusual form of writer’s block. He was spot on. I don’t get the “I don’t have an idea and can’t write” form of writer’s block. At least, I haven’t gotten it since I actually started writing regularly. I haven’t posted anything here in almost a week, because I have too many damn ideas. It sounds great on paper, but it’s the dark-side of a hyperactive brain that naturally generates ideas. None of them will leave me alone long enough to spend enough time with any one of them to really get to know it.
Because writing a story is all about intimacy. It’s taking one of the ideas constantly calling and emailing and knocking at your door and finally letting it take you out to a nice dinner. The two of you have a glass of wine, laugh at each other’s bad jokes, and explore whether you find each other mutually interesting enough to try to make something together, even if it only lasts a short while. Because a lot of ideas are sexy. But sexiness isn’t enough, especially if you are going to do something so foolish as write a novel out of your idea. Good hair and high cheek bones aren’t enough. There needs to be depth. And compatibility.
Am I saying that if you don’t have a high-pressure idea pump without an off switch lodged unceremoniously in your brain that you can’t be a writer? No, of course not. Quite the opposite. Having ideas isn’t enough. And having too many ideas can be just as bad as not having any at all. After all, a single fantastic premise is all you need for an excellent novel. All I’m saying is that if coming up with intriguing and unusual ideas doesn’t come naturally to you, that probably isn’t the direction in which you should travel. You’d be better off focusing on writing engaging and believable characters in interesting but relatable situations.
That’s what most readers care about, anyway.