“Where do you get your ideas?” must be one of the most common questions asked of authors (along with “why do you want an agent why don’t you do it yourself?” and “Did you know how many rejections JK Rowling/Katherine Stockett had?” Yes I bloody do okay?).
But the ideas question fascinates me. I have had ideas for novels for as long as I can remember. The question is not where do the ideas come from but how to store them for later and then turn it into a full-scale book with a plot. That is much harder. I believe everybody has ideas for novels, most people either don’t recognise them as such or if they do, decide for better or for worse, not to do anything with them.
A random list of places I have had ideas for novels or stories
- Watching a middle-aged man gently help a very elderly gentleman in a wheel chair eat an ice cream cone in the park (The Dorothy Summer)
- Re-reading a childhood book (Timesmudger)
- A discussion on the radio about who or what is the devil (The Signature)
- The front cover of a paperback novel (The Pensillia)
- Endless discussions in the media about the takeover of social media and the internet (Untitled apocalyptic novel)
- A talk at the Edinburgh book festival about tax havens (Romilly)
- Early morning daydreams about idioms and phrases (Killing Time)
Some are still in the ideas stage and may never come to fruition. That is where the hard work comes in. When I first started writing I thought it was utterly ridiculous when I heard authors say things like “the book wrote itself”, “I let the characters take over”. You’re writing the flipping book for goodness sake it’s got nothing to do with the characters, you tell them what to do. But I discovered that I don’t. It really is up to the characters, they decide what to do and all I can do is tell their story. The main outline of the plot notwithstanding I really don’t know what’s going to happen before I get to the end.
Having said all that, they do need some help – essentially I do have to sit down at my laptop and help them along. Thus far, even my incredibly independent and bloody minded characters have not perfected the art of writing the book whilst I have a G&T and nibble a few olives. Sometimes I am desperate to sit down and write, this is usually when I have a hundred and one other things that really do have to be done if life is to carry on as normal and my family are to eat and have the occasional clean pair of knickers. When I have a clear day ahead of me the blank page can be rather scary.
Which is where walking the dogs comes in. Dog walking is one of those things I really enjoy when I am doing it but I really don’t feel inclined to do when I could be sorting the ironing instead. Yet once outside where I can do nothing other than think ideas come flooding through. I don’t think I have ever come back from a dog walk without a head full of ideas and a burning desire to get on and write. Unfortunately I usually have to start the school run….. need to reschedule the dog walks I think.