Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Prompting ideas

'where ideas come from' natalie dee

Ideas for writing come from all sorts of places, but it is something that I have always struggled with - finding good ideas for writing. That's why I love prompts - especially Fiction Friday over at the Write Stuff website. Left to my own devices - I would probably write very little - I would always be searching for the 'perfect idea' and let's be honest - there is no perfect idea. Prompts bypass the need (for me, at least) to be perfect ... and they really challenge me to trust in the process - that plot and characters will come to me ... eventually.

Sometimes it's a light bulb moment - I know immediately when I read the prompt what I am going to write (this was the case with Untitled last week). Sometimes twists and turns take me away from the original idea, but it comes with ease. These are the weeks that I relish. Other times I'm more like an unlucky fisherman, continually casting and dragging in nothing but a slightly nibbled piece of bait. It's then that I really begin the freak out process, lose faith in my abilities as a story teller. After all being able to write down a story in a unique, logical, cohesive and readable manner is only part of the gift of a writer - you first have to come up with the idea which you want to put down and explore with your reader.

In moments of extreme creative drought I've turned to my writing oracle. Women Who Run With Wolves is a feminist psychoanalytic exploration of fairy stories - mainly very old ones to do with women's rites of passages. When I first got it (a wonderful $10 buy at bookstore that helps to support a women's shelter in Cairns) and began reading, a friend told me that it could be used for bibliomancy. That is, you can hold a problem in your head, open to a page and find some wisdom to mull over. More recently my soul sister told me that she'd it in the same way as a writing oracle.

Since learning of this useful trick I've turned to it twice. Haefestus came from its use (I now can't remember which story in the book it came from ) and more recently Demon Lover (from the a paragraph in Red Shoes). It's a good fall back, when the the flow of ideas dams or dries up. I've noticed that the harder the idea is to come by - the greater the sense of achievement I feel when it is finally laid down. Sometimes I think that really challenging stories are the best ones that I write.

Julia Cameron suggests that if you're stuck or blocked to mend a piece of clothing or to bake something - the physical process of fixing and mixing works at a creative/unconscious level. I haven't tried either of these ways yet - but it's always good to have some extra untried tricks for when you're really desperate. I've find ideas bubble to the surface when I'm hanging out washing, enjoying a shower, driving in the car or walking - mundane, everyday, repeative things that still the mind. I've also found on the odd occasions that I've been let out of an icky plot spot when I've laid down with Dylan as part of his bedtime routine. Bye Baby Bunting was 'fixed' on one of those evenings.

I think I'll add these collection of 'tricks' to my writer's red, three-level tool box, that Stephen King talks of in 'On Writing'. You never know when you may need a helping hand.

What tricks do you use to feret out ideas for writing? How do you keep the creative juices flowing, and your ideas alive and brilliant?


d sinclair said...

jodi, the mending works for me, as does knitting (which also reminds me, as I knit a patchwork blanket for the baby, that sometimes you have to take things one square at a time)...

I love this you've written - and the one about growing reminded me that I drove past a house being built today and it struck me as perverse - a wooden frame stood there all bare and skeletal... it took chopping down things that grow and live in order to put those planks up. They killed something permanent to make something so impermanent. I would rather have the forest and the trees. (not that I don't love my house but its made with stone)

there is so much inspiration everywhere.. you have everything you need!

Jodi Cleghorn said...

Knitting is something that I haven't done in ages - my last project was a grey scarf with black tassle knitted as a Valentines present in 2000 while home with glandula fever.

I really want to knit a scarf for myself this year ... or now that I'm inspired, my own patch work knitted blanket.

I know what you mean about the house ... it seems crude and ridiculous (but it makes me a hypocrite because I'm sure there's lots of wood in our house). One thing about Tasmania that really bugged me ... were the signs in the forests that said things like 'Working Forest since 1889' ... to me it sounded like someone was prostituting the forest ... which I guess they really are doing.

and on the topic of trees - this weeks Fiction Friday is to write about a tree.

Eamon said...

A few suggestions (probably already know them backwards but always nice to be reminded)

Just write!
Even when you write what seems like garbage, you are actually shaking up the brain so that in a few hours time or so, your brain will ripe for generating ideas as well as putting together language that works.

Have a scrapbook handy, where you can write down things that you like (but don't necessarily have any real shape / purpose to them at this stage - they just kind-of seem interesting):
- words
- sentences
- ideas
- plot
- characters
- poetry
- images
and so on

Dip into books that you like and just focus in on certain sentences, phrases, words, images and so on that interest in you in some way (they might not have anything to do with what you want to write or what you are going to write but this can help stir up the creative engine).

Imperfect Ideas
Ideas don't have to be perfect. Surely literature is about exploring not about about giving us 100% clear-cut ideas about things. Imperfection, also, generates humour. In trying to chissel away at an idea to make it perfect you miss out on the opportunity of exploring all the little ideas that stem from imperfection (or from being in a state of exploration as opposed to being in a state of perfecting).

Bad Ideas
Bad ideas can often contain the sparks for great ideas. Good ideas often turn out to be just that: good ideas - not great ones; great ones that will set people alight.

Having worked as account planner, copywriter and written an (unpublished) science fiction / fantasy book, I am intrigued and have studied, formally and informally, how to generate ideas ... Just a few ideas that I hope may be of some use / interest.

Smiler said...

Gosh, you're reminding me I really need to push myself about yet one more thing. I haven't attempted to write fiction since NaNoWriMo. I was really glad about my attempt but was so discouraged about my actual writing and the five or six storylines that were all pretty well awful that I never dared look at my draft or try again. But I will. In the next couple of weeks. Do both. I know there were a couple of good ideas in there so I will read it and try to develop one of the stories.

That being said, how do I get ideas? From anything. Washing the dishes, reading books, looking at photographs and coffee table books, having conversations, taking a shower, looking around at all my pretty trinkets. Whether it's for writing blog entries or drawing, I just look for that one little spark to get me inspired. Which isn't happening that much these days, but that's a different story.

Have had Women Who Run With Wolves in my bookshelf for years now. Keep thinking I really "should" read it because I'm sure it's fantastic but haven't gotten 'round to it yet. I did read On Writing last year and really enjoyed that, except didn't follow up on his suggestion to write every day. Oh well, nobody's perfect. And we can all try and try again, right?

catherine said...

I enjoyed your post and the excellent comments here. They've inspired me to create a list of "assignments" to work through based on some of the internet prompt sites. I need 'deadlines', even if they are self-created. I haven't seen the Women Who Run With Wolves book, but I'm looking it up at Barnes and Noble right after this comment!
I have a book of word/photo prompts called The Writer's Block. I use that to help me get ideas. I also use Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron books. Right now I have The Vein of Gold and Old Friend From Far Away on my desk and I read snippets before bed.

Tricksy Pixie said...

Thanks for sharing Fiction Fridays, I think I'll begin using that.

A couple silly things I do when I'm having writing trouble:

- Put my media player on random and write down the first line of lyrics from ten or so songs. Then I try to compose a poem out of the lines, or use the symbols together somehow (this is rather Oulipian.)
- Right now I've been musing on colors a lot. I'll chose a color and write down all the ideas, symbols, emotions, memories, etc that it brings up. Sometimes just conjuring phrases helps me get going.

Jodi Cleghorn said...

Thanks so everyone who shared their own tricks.

Tricksy your ideas sound like activities I will definitely be giving a go (sounds like something fun to do on a daily basis though I might need to load my MP3 up with some more albums - seeings I've only recently got one)

Cathering - did you find Women Who Run With Wolves - there's always copy on Ebay that are much cheaper than new ones ... adn are generally in good nick. I always have spare copies floating around here - pick them up at the BookFest every time I go.

Smiler - I've got an assignment for you - but shall email it for you. Especially if you're looking for reasons to write.

Eamon - we are greatly blessed with your comments. Thank you so much.

Hopefully in the next few days I will be able to announce my next 'big thing' that's finally fused together numerous ideas that have been floating around ... and then on Friday had the 'flash'. But more on that during the week!

Smiler said...

I'll be sure to check my email. Have forgotten all about it for weeks!