Thursday, March 06, 2014

Where do you get your ideas?

To be honest, getting ideas isn't really a problem. I've just been reading Penelope Lively's very enjoyable Ammonites and Leaping Fish: A Life in Time, partly a memoir, partly reflections on old age, partly about writing. She says at one point that her stories have often been inspired by places and I've found that too. I think there is something about seeing new places, about visiting as a stranger, that sets one free from one's everyday concerns and makes one wonder 'what if . . .'  I have set stories in the Guggenheim Museum in Venice, the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, in a cathedral (inspired by a holiday staying in Salisbury Cathedral close), in an acquarium inspired by a visit to the London Acquarium. And when I say 'in an acquarium' I do mean in it: the story is narrated by a fish. So, travelling is great for ideas. So are newspapers: I've got four or five box files full of clippings. One way and another I have probably got enough ideas to last for the rest of my writing life. That's not the hard bit. It's knowing what to do with them when you've got them.
And that is where the magic comes in. Because a plot can't be worked out as puzzle in logic, or not entirely. I'm writing a short story at the moment and a few days ago I couldn't think how it would end exactly. I put it aside for a while. I woke up early the next morning and lying in bed, the end of the story began to write itself in my head. The work had been done somewhere below the surface and came floating up when I was in a receptive state. The best advice on how to get into that state is in Dorothea Brande's classic Becoming a Writer. Go for a walk, have a bath, engage in 'wordless pursuits' like going to concerts or exhibitions or knitting. Travelling by train is great, I find, to get ideas flowing.
So getting ideas isn't really a problem. But finding the time to turn them into stories, that's another matter . . .

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