I’ve just finished writing my latest novel called “The Shrine” and, for the past few years, I’ve had an idea for another one swimming around inside my head. This idea started to grow momentum, and more of a genuine concept as well as a “what if?” question, around halfway through writing “The Shrine”. This happens a lot to me and other writers; I think it’s a sign of a healthy imagination that’s stocked up and ready to tell some damn fine stories.
But, the thing is, this next idea would be doomed to failure if I didn’t give it some real space to germinate; it needs some proper subconscious and conscious contemplation about how the story will playout, who the characters are and – especially – what the beginning and ending are, i.e. how I get from one to the other in an exciting, poignant, entertaining and twisty fashion.
Some writers call this idea-collection phase their “daydreaming time” – when they let idea after idea stick to one another to form a whole story. This usually occurs whilst they’re staring out the window, pottering in the garden, walking up a mountain, going to the toilet or doing the washing up. (And you may laugh about the going-to-the-toilet one, but I’ve had some of my best Eureka! moments on the loo. You shouldn’t underestimate the Power of Pooing in a writer’s idea collection time: ridding yourself of toxins can re-fire the brain’s synapses and get the imagination rolling. That’s a fact I just made up.)
Other writers call this idea-collection time research, planning and plotting – which is a far more scientific approach to creating, i.e. where they sit down and pro-actively write out plot strands and how they join each other up, where they type up hundreds of ideas and try to string them together, where they plaster the walls with post-it notes of story segments or where they visit places their stories are likely to be set and talk to people similar to the characters they wish to create.
Mental health professionals would look at how a writer or artist’s mind works at this “vacuuming up” stage of creation (where pieces of reality stick out and form a jigsaw of seemingly potent, magical and meaningful ideas) and probably want to measure the differing levels of serotonin, dopamine and other brain chemicals present in that person. They’d want to do this because, of course, these chemicals interact with memory, feelings, behaviour, inhibitions, the subconscious and the identity of the writer – all of which help develop these random collections of bite-size reality connectors that will eventually form fictional truths.
And, for me, I see this idea-collection time as an integral part of the writing process, no matter what you happen to call it. And no matter what kind of writer you are. In fact, if you are a writer, you must give yourself some time and some quiet to allow your mind to process the thoughts that will later become characters, lines of dialogue, entire scenes and beginnings, middles and endings of books, scripts, poems, articles and blogs.
If you don’t do this, you may find that things get a bit much, the real world starts crowding in and then – halfway through writing a book, short story or script – your ideas start to lose steam. Your characters will not have very much to say for themselves and things will come to halt.
It’s at this moment you will experience something commonly called “writer’s block”, which is basically a crisis of confidence in your ability as a writer. But it’s a false crisis of confidence, often due to stress and the simple fact you perhaps didn’t realise you were allowed to do idea-collection/daydreaming time so you can ensure your mind’s created a fully-fledged and workable concept for you to take a dance, an adventure and a journey with.
So, if you haven’t experienced the higgledy-piggledlyness of idea-collection time, then give it a try. I take a notebook with me where ever I go, but I actually find it’s much better (for me, at least) to just allow ideas and thoughts to stick how they will in my mind. If an idea is original and powerful enough it will keep coming back to you, it will keep shouting above the rest, simply because it has something very important to say.
Okay then writers: go be Social Vampires and suck up the juicy blood of ideas lingering everywhere around you. Walk down the street, sit in a cafe, go for a drive, go swimming, take a long weekend trip away and live in the woods, sit at your desk looking out the window, go to the pub. As long as you head somewhere out of your comfort zone to collect all the amazing stories around you.
Just, for goodness sake, go for a poo before you leave the house.