When someone meets a writer it is a common theme that it goes something like this:
“Oh, you’re a writer? I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I just can’t seem to come up with any original ideas.”
I think most of us can relate to that before we actually took the plunge. Not all, a few of you Stephen King types out there that were born to write probably never questioned the process, but a lot of us have felt that anxiety of coming up with something interesting enough to invest the time in for a novel length book. The funny thing is writers don’t struggle with this at all once they become writers. Most people I have ever talked to or read something they wrote about the subject all have the same theme: coming up with ideas is the easy part.
So how can that be? You’ve lived for forty years and never had a book worthy idea in your life and suddenly you can’t turn them off. It’s like having a curtain in your mind lifted to something that was already in there. The more you write the more ideas you get. The mind is like a muscle in that the more you use certain parts they better they seem to work. The human brain is amazingly adaptable and continually adjusts and rewires itself, and the more you exercise it the more neurons develop and the special “Idea Neurons” start firing regularly.
I’m in an interesting position to see very clearly how this works. For the second time in a year I’ve taken a hiatus from writing and I’ve become acutely aware of the changes in my imagination and my well-being. When I’m writing regularly I can count on having a new story idea pop into my head almost daily. They’re not all novel worthy, some are more suited for short stories or maybe not even worth pursuing when analyzed with more scrutiny, but they flow like a mighty river. I keep a journal for all these ideas, because heaven knows, they are like a succubus trying to entice you away from your current work-in-progress. But I log them and take them out on occasion and examine their worth, and sometimes something magical happens — they morph, or you get the notion to combine two of your ideas into one wonderful kernel of imaginative audacity, like a little generator that will power a story.
When I’m not writing the ideas dry up like a puddle of water in desert wasteland. The vivid adventure dreams that I have regularly come ever more infrequently. The fireflies of my imagination disappear like it’s winter in my mind. I also find that I get grumpy and struggle with finding joy in daily activities. When writers tell you that it isn’t a matter of wanting to write but needing to write this is one aspect of what they are talking about. It’s just plain good for our mental health and happiness (and probably for those that share our space, we really can be a cranky lot when we aren’t writing).
One of the things I see a lot of established authors tell newcomers when asked for advice is write, write a lot, and then write some more. It does more than just hone our skills, it feeds our Imagination Machine. So keep writing and exercising your mind muscle — great things are going to happen. I’d love to hear your take on this.