Friday, April 23, 2010

Idea of the Month Club

One of the things that non-writers find it hardest to grasp is that ideas are not the problem. Its worse when you come head to head with someone who perhaps doesn't read all that much, or does not read in the speculative fiction area. You start rabbiting on about your book, and ten minutes after you should have stopped (about the time that glazed look appeared), they stop and ask 'But where do you get your ideas from?' or 'And you make all that up?'

My Dad was as black and white as they come. He was a policeman for more than forty years and imagination was not his strong point. Time and again he would fix me with a perplexed look, the frown of concentration would appear and he would say, 'And you make it all up?' Ahh, yes Dad. 'But where do you get all the ideas from?' He could just not concieve that I could do it.

As most writers know - the ideas are not the problem. Its the craft, the packaging into a vehicle for them i.e. a story. The problem tends to be TOO MANY ideas - pocket books overflowing, scraps of paper with tiny scrawls etc.

After too much frustration with this response I started telling people that I subscribed to the Idea of the Month Club. Yes, there was this woman in Sydney who would send out a newsletter packed with ideas for a modest fee. I thought it would be amusing when they got the joke - but the sad thing is these people actually believed it! Then I felt terrible misleading them. Sigh.

But the other thing writers know is that the flow of ideas has its own rhythm, and can sometimes be very lean indeed. The whole creative font seems to run to its own strange designs. I know that getting inspired by books and film really tends to get my creative juices going. Reading books on topical science really gets the SF ideas flowing.

What ways do you use to get inspire the flow of ideas?


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris, I find life bombards me with ideas.

Some people see conspiracies, other people see dead people. Me, I see stories. Even a phrase overheard on a train turns into a story. I can't stop it.

Jonathan D. Beer said...

I know what you mean about the waxing and waning flow, Chris. I have just taken a five-day break from my novel as it is with first-readers, and thought a story short would be a good filler to keep the writing going.

I have yet to have had a good idea for a short that I could capitalise on. And yet, and yet, were I to pick up my manuscript I guarantee that I'll be thinking of stories aplenty.

I have turned to dashing out character bios for the characters of my novel (which I never do usually) in the hopes that thinking about them individually will spark some synapses and all the cool ideas I had for them that are lurking in some region of my brain will pop up and demand attention.

C Kelsey said...

I have little sparks of ideas all the time. This has resulted in a hard drive full of unfinished short stories and novellas (and a couple of novels).

It's all the ideas in my head that are the problem. I sit down to write one of them, and they ALL clammour for attention.

Anonymous said...

Conversations are always good for ideas, especially when they get silly.

Other books I've read. Especially the 'throw across the room' kind. "Why didn't he do this?" "Doesn't he realize that that . . ."

Movies. "What a setting. It would have been so much better if there'd been a wizard up the tower, and . . . "

Science books and magazine articles. I take Science News and probably ought to take New Scientist, which goes out on limbs regularly. My local library has a nice magazine selection. I used to have a standing Wednesday morning appointment with myself, the rack, a comfy chair . . .

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Chris, my issue is not having ideas. Keeping them out. I wanted to make a tinfoil helmet, but my agent forbid it, on account of overheating the brain.

Anonymous said...

My biggest problem is wish-washing about to decide on an idea. They crowd my brain, but usually one stands out soon. My challenge is to make that happen faster. I've just about decided on writing key words from the ideas screaming at me and then picking them out of a hat.

I will say I've also been looking at my shorts and saying, "Okay, I've got a dragon story, a hobgoblin story, a butterfly story, a retros-70s story, etc.. What story do I want to go with next?"

Simplification. That's a strategy.

Linda Davis

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Sounds like lack of ideas is not the problem.

Everyone needs more hours in the day to write down all their ideas!

Chris McMahon said...

Ha! Hi, Rowena. So you are the one who runs the Idea of the Month Newsletter then?

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Jonathan. The whole creative process is certainly strange. I find I really need to 'load up' a story before I can get a wind up. Once I do that the whole idea mill is churning out all sorts of ideas related to the main story.

Turning to something new can really be a case of the blank page - yet the time I spend staring at the blank page seems to build up a bit of creative potential in its own right & I end up get a breakthrough on that after a break, or over the next day or so.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Chris. At least you are managing to get all the ideas down - you never know when you might want to develop one into a short or something longer when the market opens up.

Sometimes you might see an anthology for some very specific sort of genre or storyline and if you have an idea close it can make approaching a story on the run so much easier.

What is worse is when you have a series of ideas and you cannot get them all down fast enough and one slips away! Damn frustrating. They do seem to re-emerge though - eventually.


Chris McMahon said...

Hi, matapam. That Wednesday morning sounds like fun. I think we all dream of the plush chair in the library.

I see you have found a new use for books that get through across the room:) I had not considered getting anything out of them beyond frustration!

You are right though - I also seem to spin ideas out of storylines that don't work for me. Like - yes, what I was really waiting for was this or that sub-plot, or the reason I disliked the story was that they did not take the character in the direction that I had mapped out for them (damn their eyes!).

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Sarah. Have you tried cooling towers? That woman who runs the Idea of the Month Cub and Newsletter (who may or may not be Rowena), has adds in the Newsletter for Idea Cooling Towers.

These are fitted onto the temples, usually while the writer is busy reading or watching films etc and help to siphon off the excess creative heat.

(They have been banned in some countries as the Creative Radiation causes otherwise unimaginative people to get strange ideas, but they are still available through mail order).

Jim McCoy said...

Coming up with ideas...

That's a weird process for me. I have a strange mind that makes connections all the time. I was doing nothing for like five seconds today, and for some reason, I think to myself, out of the bright blue sky, "Gee, I'd never mess with an accountant. They'd audit me out of existence."

Next thing you know, I've got a image of my head of an account shaking his head and saying, "I'm sorry sir. There is no line item in here for you. You don't exist." And then pulling a gun to prove it. I once started a post apocalyptic novel (still working on it and it needs A LOT of work) with an exploding classroom because I had just finished a test and was waiting for everyone else to and thought..."Damn, it's quiet in here. Wouldn't it be crazy if something blew up?

It's just a crazy world for me I guess.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Linda. That is a real dilemma. Somehow I manage to settle on an idea. Now that you mention it, I cannot for the life of me tell you how I manage to settle on one for the next project. I think I enjoy them as they come and one will kind of rise up to the top. Though, having said that - if someone actually asks me for a story (say an anothology) that becomes an automatic Trump.

I think I also have this bloody-minded loyalty to the idea that I am working on currently, that helps to keep the other new ones at bay.

But inbetween projects - I really have to feel my way until something clicks.

You've really got me thinking on that one!

Good luck!

C Kelsey said...

Oh I don't get anywhere near all of the ideas written down, Chris. The mere act of writing down an idea seems to generate twenty new ideas. I try to focus on the ones that have real staying power in my head. Of course, with those I run into an entirely different problem. Those ideas have worlds so well developed that the amount of detail gets in the way of the writing.

Kate said...

Ah, yes, the idea of the month club. I think I'm somewhere around June, 2197. Or was that 2917?

Anyway. Yes, ideas are easy. They're everywhere. I tend not to start writing mine until they mature enough to carry at least a short story, although that usually means I end up with another bloody novel.

With me it's rarely the flow of ideas so much as maintaining something for the length of the story. Usually not being able to means I've got something wrong. Sometimes it means I need to stop writing and start sketching out what's supposed to happen. Sometimes it just means I need to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and trust the mongrel characters who are giving me smug looks and telling me to just write the thing.

Yeah. I'm crazy.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, I have to agree with the others here. It isn't the need to inspire the flow of ideas. All too often, it's the need to silence the flow until a project is finished. Anything from a dream to driving down the street to watching the clouds, etc., can get an idea flowing. Sometimes, I want all the voices in my head that are demanding that their story get told NOW to just be quiet. ;-)

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Chris. At least you get some of them down:)

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Kate. Don't you hate that? You get an idea, think, yep - this is going to be a short story. You start writing it and yet again someone reads it for a crit session and says 'You know I think this would work better as a novel.' or 'You know I think this really is a first chapter.'


Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Amanda. I think I have my idea for my next post - 'Quieting the Inner Idea Maniac' :)

I can really relate to what people are saying about the ideas. I never really seriously contemplated being a writer, but at university the flow of ideas became overwhelming. I really HAD to do something with them.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Jim. I can't wait to read some of those stories:)

I think more than one student has dreamed of exploding classrooms!

Stephen Simmons said...

I have a folder full of opening hooks, or just short idea-sparks, or just character ides awaiting stories to happen to them, all sitting on the hard-drive and impatiently waiting their turns. Some have an entire opening page or more, some are as simple as the file containing just the single line: "A rose by any other name would confuse the heck out of that new girl down at the flower shop".

I find that I HAVE to keep more than one thing in progress at any given time. I am by nature an inveterate punster, and I have to have at least one light-hearted piece available at all times, to bleed off the silliness before I can settle down to do anything serious.