You get the idea!

Posted: June 14, 2013 in Regarding writing
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I get a lot of ideas for stories. Hundreds and hundreds over the years, and I own multiple notebooks just full of scribbled plots. Some are full formed ideas, most are half-baked notions, and I’ve been known to clamber out of bed searching for a scrap of paper and a pen because I’ve had an idea just before I drop off to sleep. I get ideas on the train, I get ideas in the bath, I even get ideas on the loo! I once conceived an entire novel (to date still unwritten) trying to sleep on a night time coach journey to Mt Sinai!

The immortal question every writer is asked at some point is; where do you get your ideas? Well, it’s hard to answer, I just do. In a way it’s simply the way my mind is wired. I see connections where others don’t. Most people see a news story and that’s that. Me, something just fires in my head. What if A happened instead of B? What would it be like to be X? What is Z was actually a vampire robot from the year 4000 instead of a postmistress…

Many years ago I heard about some builders who were killed during the construction of a nearby swimming pool because they got chemicals on themselves and dived into the pool to clean themselves off, not realising the chemicals would react badly with water…what most people would have seen as just a horrible tragedy formed the basis of my first published short story ‘On a Hundred Other Nights’ in Bridge House’s anthology Spooked.

The majority of ideas come to nothing of course. In the main this is simply because there isn’t enough time in the day to write everything, and even if I was able to give up work and earn a living from writing I suspect there still wouldn’t be enough time to breathe life into every idea.

Plus some ideas are, frankly, rubbish. I’ve lost count of how many notions I’ve come up with over the years that struck me as the greatest thing ever when I had them, yet crumbled like rotted timber once I gave them serious consideration. The trouble is, often you can’t tell which stories have legs and which don’t until you start writing. Last year I abandoned a novel despite struggling to almost 30,000 words. It was a horrible thing to give up on but it really just wasn’t right. Conversely a few weeks after I gave up on it I got another idea, and to date the new novel is up to 130,000 words (and rising!)

Of course sometimes an idea can sit in one of my notebooks (or even my head) for years before it actually ends up being written, and it might not end up in the format I originally intended either…

For example; I recently submitted a zombie story for an anthology but the idea itself was one I originally had for another anthology about 3 years ago, I just never got around to writing it then, but when this new anthology cropped up the idea seemed to fit it to a tee so I wrote it now.

Then there’s the book I have on Kindle. The Devils of Amber Street was originally conceived years ago, and it was supposed to be a novel, but though I started it I couldn’t get into it. About two years later I decided to try it as a short story, but during the course of writing it the short story morphed into a 20,000 word novella, which, as it turned out, was probably about the right size.

Ideas aren’t everything of course. You can have all the ideas in the world but if you lack the skill to string two sentences together, or the dedication to commit to writing, editing and proofing a complete story, novella or novel, then all you’ll end up with is lots and lots of notebooks and not much else.

That said, I’d hate it if one day my brain stopped generating story ideas, I can’t think of anything worse (well actually I can, because you see my imagination hasn’t stopped working! Aha!!) and I wonder which would be more soul destroying, to be a skilled writer with no ideas, or a person with dozens of ideas who lacks the skill to do anything with them?

You know, there could be a story in that…now where did I put my notebook?

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