‘So, where do you get your ideas?’

I know I’ve written on this topic a couple of times before, but it’s one of those questions that never goes away.

Where do you get your ideas?’

This is one of the first questions people usually ask me – and I’m pretty sure it happens to other writers all the time. It kind of makes me want to groan, because it’s next to impossible to give a sincere and considered answer to this question without boring the pants off everyone by talking for an hour. The short, somewhat trite answer might be, ‘Everywhere!’

But if we really want to answer the question, it takes a minute or two longer. Because really there’s no single answer. Ideas don’t come from one unique, unvarying source. Nor do they come in the same way each time. Anything from the world seen or unseen can come to my attention and lead me to think, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting…’

Inspiration, which is what ideas really are, comes from everywhere and nowhere. A snatch of song, a news story, a little patch of colour on a card in the paint section of the DIY store, the turn of a person’s head making you think just for one split second it’s someone else, someone from another time, someone who should be dead. An unexpected view of yourself in a shop window, that odd moment before you recognise yourself, that brief second when you think, slightly puzzled, ‘I know you.’

An overheard snatch of conversation, ‘Don’t lose my hat, man, my hat’s my identity,’ and ‘Of course she never did find out who’d sent it.’ A film, a book, a taste, a smell, a memory, a story your mother told you – you’ve known her all your life yet this is the first time she’s ever mentioned this particular incident.

I have based two full-length stories on dreams, three short stories and one novel on songs, a poem on a piece of art, a novel based on a documentary I saw on TV about ancient tapestries, (Opus Anglicanum: Latin for English work), and another about the Reformation. I’ve written a short story about an arrowhead, and another about ancestral bones and the relevance they might have to a Neolithic man, about a couple of  trips to Skara Brae in the Orkneys.

I’ve written a whole series of stories about the fact that all too often people think it’s okay to take the law into their own hands. (I’m looking at you Cressida, MC of the Friendship Can Be Murder trilogy!) I’ve written about work situations, about hopes and plans for the future, about family tree research, about children, and pets, and parents. About love. About the absence of love. About Faith. About fear. About books I read as a child. And books I read as an adult. I’ve written about identity and what it means to be who I am, who you are. I’ve written about death – loads.

I saw a gorgeous man on the bus many years ago and wrote a story about him, (The Ice King – still not ‘available’, but if you’re intrigued, here’s a link to a short bit about him.) I’ve read news reports and been inspired to create my own story around some of those. I’ve written in hospital having just given birth, in hospital awaiting treatment for cancer, at work during my lunchbreak when I felt so depressed I just wanted to run away and hide. I’ve written when sitting on the loo, sitting in the garden, on holiday, in bed with flu, and in cafes all over Britain, Europe and Australia. I’ve written on buses and trains and planes. I’ve written when someone I cared about has died. I’ve even got inspiration from sitting down at my desk every day and just making myself write. Sometimes I’ve written page upon page of ‘I don’t know what to write’, like lines that we had to do at school, and still nothing has come to me and I’ve gone away desperate, feeling that the well has not only dried up, but was only a mirage to begin with.

If you are a writer, you squirrel away in the eccentric filing cabinet known as your brain EVERY single thing that you ever experience, and a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle or creating a patchwork quilt, you keep trying pieces together every which way until something fits and makes a pleasing and meaningful picture. There’s not really a pattern to it, there’s not a system or a set of regulations to follow. You just do it.

That’s where I get my ideas.

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Write on, as Gerry and the Pacemakers never said…

This is how I was feeling a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully I now have that wonderful ‘almost-there’ feeling. 

 

The dreaded middle-of-the-book slump. The urge to give up and get a proper job strikes yet again. Why am I doing this to myself, I ask. I sit in front of the keyboard and think. I can’t even remember the names of all these characters, let alone what they look like. My plot feels simplistic and obvious, my prose isn’t wowing me.

Staying focused is the hard part now. Two-thirds of the way into the book, and I am into self-doubt territory. The desire to write something new, something easier is strong. But I have to press on. This is not the time to listen to voices telling me to stop, telling me what I’m writing is rubbish. This is not the time to be concerned with quality or to agonise over the aptness of a phrase.

There are ways of coping – mechanisms for dealing with the tough parts of the experience. I could try Dr Wicked’s Write Or Die, set it on Kamikaze and write, write, write, furiously, for the allotted time before the programme deletes my words and they are gone forever. I may not churn out Proust or Shakespeare, but at least I AM still churning. Anything – even ten words – is better than writing nothing.

I could go for a walk, take some time off, watch TV or read a book, do some chores around the house, I could do ‘research’ – ie sit looking at stuff on the Internet. Just taking a break will renew my energy and strengthen my sense of purpose, so long as I don’t allow myself too much time away.

But then, sooner rather than later, I’d have to sit back down, take up my pen or put my fingers on the keys, and carry on with my story. I have to believe in my ability to tell my story and believe that it is a story only I can tell. Mary Wibberley, a British writer of romance novels, wrote a book many years ago which changed my life. It was the first how-to-be-a-writer book I ever read, and it taught me to believe, hope and above all, to write. It was called To Writers With Love, and in it she likened the writing process to that of mountain climbing. Her best advice?  “Don’t look down.”

Don’t look down means not stepping back from the ‘problem’ and seeing too big a picture, allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by fear and a sense of something too large to be scaled. It means not getting dizzy but staying focused. It means keep battling forward, one step at a time, until you gradually reach your goal. Don’t allow yourself to become paralysed by the enormity of your undertaking, but move forward slowly but steadily, overcoming difficulties one at a time. Don’t get discouraged by looking around you at the achievements of others, or by listening to negativity or malice.

So, as Gerry and the Pacemakers didn’t say, but no doubt would have, had they been the cheerleaders of an Indie author: Write on!

I will battle on, through this Slough Of Despond, until I write those wonderful words that bring me such joy and a sense of accomplishment: ‘The End’.

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