Ideas. Where do they come from? This is a question that authors are frequently asked, and one I've aways found perplexing since writers get their ideas in the same way that non-writers get theirs. I mean, it's not like we have an Idea Box that we've hidden under the bed. If only.
Ideas come to all of us in all sorts of ways. When we're reading. When we're watching TV. When we're walking the dog, or doing the dishes (rarely, according to Babs), or raking the lawn. I've had many ideas when shoveling snow, most of them involve moving.
April in New Hampshire. I know how Shackleton felt.
It is true, though, that sometimes ideas come in more mysterious ways. I've just begun a new project, like BULL, another novel in verse, this one based not on a myth, but on an historical figure. The idea came to me in the middle of the night: I woke up at three with a name in my head. A name I recognized but knew almost nothing about the person to whom it is attached. A little weird, maybe, but then, believe me, I know almost nothing about everything.
What I know about most things.
Another misconception is that some readers seem to think that an idea is the equivalent of a finished project, an entire book, like Athena appearing fully-formed out of the head of Zeus. As appealing as that is, it is so not the case. Ideas are tricky things. Usually, you're only getting a tiny peek at a much larger more complex set of problems, problems that have to be solved. And often it turns out that the starting point, that initial "idea", is not really a starting point at all, but a jagged shard of something in the middle, or before the beginning, or at the end. It's like a paleontologist discovering the metacarpal of a T-rex. She's found the tiniest part of something much, much larger. The rest is buried. Now she'll have to do the hard work of digging down to see what's there. After a lot of trial and error, she'll start the painstaking task of trying to put it together, and if she is anything like me, she'll mistakes all along the way. Rearranging. Mistaking a rib for a vertebrae. Getting rid of the bones that seem to have come from a different animal. Turning the bones around so that they're not backwards, as she originally constructed them.
Ohhhhhhh, the head bone's connected to the . . .
Shards and bones. I like this metaphor. Most ideas lie buried deep in us.
I don't really know where the idea for BULL came from. As I have written elsewhere, as a kid I read Scrooge McDuck and The Golden Fleecing and have loved the Greek myths ever since. And then, of course, there's the minotaur, a hybrid, and aren't we all hybrids of one kind or another? And then there's that uncomfortable theme of fathers and sons. But I didn't realize that until after I'd written the book. Oh well, I'll take it up with my therapist later. Or not.
And then, when I was three, . . . . or, Wake me when it's over.
All of these are of interest to me, but did they have anything to do with the idea of writing the book? Not consciously, at least.
I myself am surprised by BULL, the form as much as the content. Though it is written entirely in verse, I am not a poet. So how did the idea come to tell the story in a series of poetic forms that I had never used, and in most cases, had never heard of. I dunno. It's what the book wanted. Even now, when I read passages from it, I think to myself: Did I write that?
I like that feeling. It's liberating.
But I did write it, and now I'm writing another, and after that, I hope I'll write another. In the end, more interesting to me is not where ideas come from, but that they come to us at all. And for that, we should all be eternally grateful. I know I am.
Feel free to share any ideas you might have below. It would make me so happy to hear from you.
Here's an idea. Stop the boring chit-chat and take me for a walk.