A while back, before I considered myself a writer, I thought, “if only I had some good ideas.”Â Now, I have an over-abundance of ideas, and I’m thinking a great deal more about process, where ideas come from and how they are developed. To my mind, ideas come in two basic forms:
The Ah-ha: this comes to mind in dreams or due to random encounters, or seemingly from nowhere at all. When I get these, I leap up and grab a pen, or quickly make a voice memo, before the idea slips away. These ideas apparently can’t tolerate the distractions of real life. Someone really should conduct a study wherein electrodes are attached to writers (kinda like research on meditating Buddhist monks) to see what is going on when this happens.
The What-if: a seed that is consciously pursued. I sit down and ask specific questions meant to generate possible ideas for use. I make a list of concepts or items. Maybe a useful notion comes out of this, and maybe not. The key here, I think, is to throttle your inner editor and entertain anything that comes to mind, no matter how absurd it seems. It may be that the more absurd the idea appears, the better.
At Clarion West, I worked concepts from both categories into narratives, and if I got stuck, I did something that my pre-CW self may have thought unthinkable. I went to the nearest library (I was lucky to be within walking distance of the absolutely gorgeous and inspiring reading room in the Suzzallo Library at the U of Washington), and grabbed a random book from the shelf. Historical events, animals, gender theory, poetry, or any topic at all might serve to spark linkage in a story, give me setting details or provide background for a character.
A new short in progress enjoyed a similar boost yesterday when I happened upon a book full of disturbing images of collectible dolls from the turn of the century.
Elements for ideation can come from random sources; it’s what you do with them that makes narrative happen.