So Muse Monday is actually Muse Tuesday this week because yesterday I was busy celebrating the birth of my country by eating cooked animals and drinking too much and playing Scattergories (I did not win).
The subject for our meditation this week is ideas. “Where do you get your ideas?” is, I’m told–I have no firsthand experience with this–an idea that established writers get asked a lot when they make appearances of a writerly nature. Every writer I’ve ever heard talk about this question does so with a kind of weary bemusement–it seems like the question that they have the least satisfying answer for, and yet everyone apparently asks it, maybe out of a desire to know the origin of the stories they love, or maybe just because they want to have ideas like that too.
This is actually a subject of some personal interest for me, because for a long time I held off trying to write original fiction precisely because I felt like I had no ideas that could stand on their own. That’s no longer the case; indeed, I often feel these days like I have too many ideas, and they’re all clamoring for my attention. It makes focusing on projects a bit difficult, especially when those projects become difficult in and of themselves.
So what changed? I’m not entirely sure, but if pressed to guess, I would say that I don’t think it’s that I have any more ideas than I used to. I think I always used to have ideas. What I’ve learned to do now is pay attention to them.
A lot of that is confidence. A lot of it is simple practice. But I find that a huge component of writing is paying attention; it’s what allows one to write truly, whether it’s description or dialogue. Fiction has to be true–we have to believe it as we’re reading it, otherwise what’s the point? So good writing is telling the truth, and you can’t tell the truth unless you know what the truth is. So you have to pay attention.
I’ve never found that getting ideas comes from looking for them. It comes from being patient and open. It’s like a 3D image: it’s a question of looking until something clicks in your vision and you see. And then you see more, gradually.
So try to see. And be not afraid–I think fear kills more good stories in infancy than probably anything else. Fear that you don’t have a good idea, fear that you won’t do it justice, fear that you won’t be able to see at all. I deal with that fear every time I sit down to write anything. But this is where the practice comes in: it gets easier. Somehow.
And it’s worth it. I wish I’d started long before I did.