I doubt there are many people reading this blog that don’t already know that I write fiction, but just in case: I write fiction! I’ve been writing fiction since I was old enough to hold a pencil, focusing on short stories until I moved to novels about nine years ago. Often, people will ask me how I come up with the ideas for my books. My standard answer is that I find inspiration from dreams and misheard song lyrics. That’s true, but only in the narrowest sense. Writer-brain isn’t necessarily linear.
Take, for example, a thing that happened to me yesterday. I haven’t been writing much this year. I’ve been working steadily (but very slowly) on a second draft of a novel all year, and I’m only about ten chapters into it. Studying and family-stuff have taken priority this year. Consequently, I have a lot of fiction currently in my brain. There are three manuscripts that I would love to get second drafts written for at present time. Trying to choose which of those three to work on this year was agonizing. I was not in any way looking for something new to work on. Yet.
But then yesterday, I walked to the library with Jason and the boys. I had a few audiobooks on hold to pick up, and after I checked them out, I sat in the common area on the second floor where we always meet once the boys grab their 10,000 weekly mangas. I looked off to the rows of books, and saw a title of a YA book I’d never heard of before: Isla and the Happily Ever After. Actually, “Isla” was the only word I could read from where I sat, and it immediately brought to mind Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” that I listened to in my childhood. And that’s where writer-brain kicked in.
All of a sudden, I had a fully-formed general outline for a novel that could either be a YA allegorical fantasy or an adult literary magical realism book, depending on the characters and the fleshing out of said outline. I opened my iPhone (yay for technology!) and jotted down a brief bullet-point list of the plot-arc. My expectation at that point was to transfer the notes to my writing notebook when I got home, and let the story develop at some later date, when I didn’t currently have three manuscripts I was trying to get to.
Um, no. All of a sudden, the characters from the new novel came to life, one by one. I began to see them and learn their roles in the story, their lives before the story. As we left the library, Jason asked me if I was okay, because I was just staring off into space, not seeing the world around me. Yes, I was okay. I was writing. And I “wrote” all the way home. For half an hour, I dragged a cart of books behind me, eyes glazed, not seeing or hearing a thing except what was in my head. By the time I got home, I had four characters mostly developed, with names and backstories and entry-points into the novel. I wrote out their notes at home…and continued to learn more about them as I wrote…and now I have another novel that is largely fleshed out and screaming at me to begin work on…
Writer-brain. Lovely even when inconvenient. Sigh.
So now I have four books I want to be working on. I won’t be abandoning my current manuscript, but I also won’t stop developing the notes for this one. If I’m
lucky diligent, I’ll finish the current draft and develop this new story completely before November, when I can use NaNoWriMo to write my first sloppy-quick-draft of the new book, to help me fully develop story/characters before writing a much-better second draft at a later date.
Does this help explain how writer-brain works? Um, no. I think instead, it simply illustrates how difficult it would be to really answer the question of “where do you come up with your ideas?” I don’t know where. They just come, and turn me into a zombie for a bit as my brain takes the spark of inspiration and turns it into something usable. The end.