"Hey. Wow. What if my heroes START in Damascus and GO to Baghdad? Oh yeah. That means they could visit the House of Wisdom. Cool! And I don’t have to worry about the princess having an actual historical, documented family: I can make it all up! Yes. Yes! Awesome!"
That’s because I do my creative thinking in the shower. Not exclusively of course, but often enough that I can more or less rely on that time to get plot details tweaked, and new elements will often come to me in that inexplicable ZAPP way that is the nicest thing about the creative process. Either in the shower, or sat on the bathroom mat wrapped in a towel afterwards. Sometime I don’t emerge until nearly noon. I’m not sure what it is about getting washed – the fluid play of the water, the familiar automatic movements that keep your body busy while freeing the mind – but it seems to work.
On occasions when I’m stuck for an idea or a solution to a plot problem, my other technique is to have a 10-minute nap and then force myself to lie there after I wake up. My mind has re-ordered itself during sleep and new possibilities occur – but not if I get up and start wandering round the house. On the other hand I never get ideas when I lie down at night, which I hear is fairly common: when I go to bed I fall asleep in nano-seconds and any muses out there just skip on past, giggling.
Creating a novel is 95% dogged work, but we all need those epiphanies, those little pieces of originality and inspiration, that seem to arrive from some other place (out of the blue sky, up from the depths of the subconcious) and blunder into our minds. Learning where they hang out, how to tempt them closer, how to lay traps for those elusive little creatures, is skill I’ve had to learn.
So I figured I’d ask some other Lusties how they did it too…
Is there a special place/time of day that ideas come to you ?
Portia : I quite often get ideas for plots and characters and stories while getting washed in the bathroom, or taking a bath or shower. (Hah! See! – Janine)
Olivia: I dream my way through my stories in the shower a lot (Are we spotting a thread here? – Janine). I'm not much of a morning person and frequently forget I'm supposed to be soaping & rinsing & then getting dressed, so I end up staring out the window thinking I'm one of my characters. Long walks with my ipod are excellent planning time, and because there's no pen and paper handy, it stops me committing to ideas too quickly - much better, sometimes, just to let drift, see scenes unfold, and decide later if they'll actually work. I give myself a vague focus for the walk -- yup: vague focus, idea-finding is all about contradiction, thinking about a story without thinking about it, concentrating less on productivity to be more productive, etc.
Madeline: If I'm not at my desk I can usually be found in my bed, so most of my ideas come to me in bed, usually at night. It's the idea that's the toughest part for me (maybe for everyone) and many of my ideas are too wacky for the genre. (Just don’t ask her about the Mad Cow story! – Janine)
Erastes: Usually I get my best ideas in that inbetween time between sleep and waking - this is usually the most dangerous because I think to myself that I'll DEFINITELY remember this when I wake up and I never do so I've started always having a pen and paper by the bed.
Kate: Usually as I'm drifting off to sleep or just waking up I get my best ideas-sometimes when I listen to lyrics as well
Do you ever get writers' block?
Olivia: YES! I find it intensely irritating when some novelists, usually men, say rather smugly, "Well, I think writer's block is ridiculous, I mean plumbers don't get plumber's block!" And I think: yeah, which is why you write like you're fixing a u-bend. Every time I start a book I'm dumbstruck by my own presumption. When I lived in London, I was blocked for two and a half years - no trees, see - and it was terrifying.
Madeline: Unfortunately I'm the type of person who needs an ironclad routine in order to work steadily. Visitors, events, even a night out throw me right off. Christmas takes me a month to prepare for and two months to get over. I seem to be felled by illness a lot, in the last few years, and when I'm sick I collapse totally into an 'I'm dying' state that's probably harder to recover from than the actual illness.
Erastes: Not so much block but I just feel disinterested in continuing to write what I'm writing. When I first started out I used to get blocked because every time I finished something I got this horrible black veil which made me feel that I'd never be able to write anything else ever again but each time I found I could, and did - so I got out of that habit and don't get blocked. But when I get BORED that's lethal because I just put off even opening the file and looking at it.
Kate: Not really, I don't have time :)
If so, do you have special techniques to overcome it?
Madeline: There's nothing like a 'call for submissions' to get me going.
I've dabbled in all sorts of genres over the years but I started in the short story form and it's immensely satisfying to finally be able to write a good short story. The restrictions and requirements of erotica have freed me. Strange, but true.
All I really need to do is sit at my desk and pull up my work in progress, and the work starts. Sometimes it's incredibly difficult but that doesn't show in the work. Sometimes it's easy, and again, that doesn't show in the work. I'm finding that as I mature as a writer the first draft (which used to be my favourite to write) is by far the most difficult. Used to be that my pleasure in the process went downhill after that, but now I rewrite happily until the piece is in place. More and more, I get my greatest pleasure from 'turning words' as they say. (Well, I suppose my greatest pleasure as a writer comes from having my submission accepted, but in terms of the process, these days I'm really enjoying the rewrite.)
Erastes: I push myself through it. A good friend said that it was important to put the words down and if they weren't good words it didn't matter - they could be made better later and that's good advice. So I just write on, even if it's as dull as "Gideon woke up and got dressed" because as long as I'm progressing the story, that's good - I can go back and pretty the prose up later.
Kate: I do try and take some time off every week and a bigger vacation each year and do something completely different-I also use ‘The Artist's Way' by Julia Cameron if I really feel creatively drained.