Monday, 14 February 2011
Where Ideas Come From
One of the most common questions writers are asked is “Where do you get your ideas from?” As a writer I can understand why someone being asked this question for the gazillionth time might leak out a groan. On the other hand I can also understand why a reader might ask.
The brain is a like a receptor for ideas you just need to tune it in... and whisper it – with enough practise, anyone can do it.
Remember the last time you bought a new car. Before the moment you got behind the wheel of your new car you rarely saw that particular brand. Perhaps, that was one of the reasons you liked it? However, now that you’ve got on, you see them every frickin’ where.
There aren’t suddenly more of them on the road. You haven’t started a new fashion, dude. It’s just that your awareness has been switched on. Your receptor has been alerted and is working on that particular issue.
It’s the same with ideas.
I went through a writing challenge with a writing buddy a few years back. I moaned to him that I hadn’t written a poem for yonks. He set me a challenge. I was to send him a fresh new poem every day by midnight.
Aye, right, says I. I’ve got a life. How about 1 a week? Naw, says he (in a Canadian accent – on account of the fact he comes from Canadia) how about 2 per week. Awright, says I (in a Scottish accent on account of I come from Scottishland.) And all of this by email! Amazing!
That set off one of the richest writing periods of my life. For 9 months I wrote 2 poems per week and emailed them to MK (on account of that’s his initials). Midnight Wednesday and Midnight Sunday were the deadlines and it was not a rare occurrence that I’d be chewing on my pencil at nine-thirty pm on a Wednesday, wondering just what the fuck I was going to write about. The expletive is necessary because that’s just what I was thinking.
... something always turned up. I saw a poem EVERYWHERE. Other writers’ writing would set off a chain reaction of thought – a couple in a cafe – an old man hunched over a newspaper in a library – the sound of kids laughing outside my window... the sound of kids crying outside my window... for much of that nine months I went about in a creative daze and the world was my muse. Sounds a bit wanky, but that’s the way it was.
Until work got a bit horrible and drove any thought of being creative from my mind.
And the jolly nice thing was that most of the poems wot I wrote in the period were jolly good. Even if I say so myself. Most of them even got published. So there.
Then crime writing kinda took over and my receptors were dialled in to the darker side of the human mind.
One day, a number of years back, I was on a London train making my way to a poetry event run by the afore-mentioned MK. The carriage I was in was full. We’re talking arms pinned by your side; someone else’s bad breath fouling your ear space kinda full. To my left, by the door was a group of American tourists. Four girls in their early-twenties; shiny with an un-lived life and pink with promise. They were completely un-mindful of anyone else, totally locked in to the importance of their own existence. One of them said something. Another shouted, “Shut up!” They all giggled.
A man to their side edged closer. Leading with his groin. He was tall, gaunt, face angled in shadows and he studied the girls as if they were the meat and he was holding the knife and fork. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a look on another person’s face. There was no sign of humanity. These girls were things. Porn, with their clothes still on.
My mind started racing. This man would hurt these girls as thoughtlessly as I might throw a chocolate wrapper into a bin. I wanted to warn them. But how? I couldn’t reach them. I was seriously penned in. And what if I alerted them and this was all part of an over-active imagination? Camera phones weren’t as prevalent then as they are now, or I would have taken his picture and sent it to the Met with the tagline – don’t know who he is but he’s got to be guilty of something.
He fixed his gaze on the loudest girl. She had long, black shiny hair, her skin looked freshly poured. His look wasn’t sexual. There was no hint of a leer. It was even more predatory than that. I couldn’t wait until the next stop. The plan I hit on was that if none of them got off I would pretend I was leaving, then do a big dramatic tut as I realised I was making a mistake and then stepping back into the train I would position myself between the man and the girls.
No mess. No fuss.
The train reached the next stop. The mad rush of passengers on and off began. I made my move... to find the girls had stayed on and the man had vanished.
Did I imagine it? Was this man some sort of predator or a projection of a mind set to seek out the dark side?
Who knows, but it’s going to make a good scene in a future book.
So, where do YOU get your ideas from?