Clarissa Johal: Writing on...writing

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Writing on...writing

Bear with me this week because I really hit a wall as to what to post today. I spent a good fifteen minutes staring at a blank computer screen and imagining words just appearing there, as if by magic. 
Ironic, because I’ve had a really good week and the novel I’m working on is coming along quite nicely. Blog posts, however, are always more of a challenge. Especially now that I’ve decided to post every Sunday.
Last night, I gave up on my empty computer screen to stare out the window. Where did other writers get their ideas from? Not for their blogs, because they’re supposed to be easy, but for their novels. And since it sounded like a dandy distraction from writing my blog post, I decided to look up several of my favorite writers to see if they’ve answered that question.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Robert Holdstock, who wrote my favorite novel Mythago Wood, said in an interview, “Everything grows. I have an idea, I have some characters in my head, and when I get an idea of what it is I want to say, I start going for it. I do, I'm not afraid to say, write out of chaos.”
Garth Nix, author of Sabriel, states, “I think inspiration comes from all over the place...I doubt that it varies depending on what you write, in a sense. It's all raw material that goes into your head and you make up what you will.”
Neil Gaiman? (And yes, I always have to quote Neil because he’s plain awesome) Neil says, “I make them up, out of my head. You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.”
I munched on these interviews for awhile and reflected on where my ideas came from.
Mythology inspired me. I love mythology, all kinds of mythology. The stories from different cultures are fascinating. Everything is there, the antagonists, the protagonists, the life struggles, the magic and intrigue. It’s like a treasure trove of ideas that have been filtered and passed down through the ages to be shared. 
Did I feel like writing a blog post about mythology? Eh, not today. I thought some more.
Sometimes, I’d get ideas that came to me “out of the blue.” You know it’s been an “out of the blue” day when I had notes scrawled all over my hands and arms because I never seemed to have paper when I needed it. I checked my arms and hands. Unfortunately, they were as blank as my computer screen.
There were other times when my dream people spoke to me. Have you ever had a lucid dream that stuck with you for days or even weeks? Those dreams are begging to be turned into stories. My personal challenge is when my dream people chose to speak to me in a different language. And yes, that happens often--since I was a kid, in fact. I know on some level it’s a language, but I can’t understand what the heck they’re saying. I usually spend the next day looking up words or a sentence that stuck in my head, spelling it phonetically (which doesn’t always work). The last time this happened, I spent hours trying to decipher a phrase and the closest I could come was, “pennipotenti es volatilis per parietis” which seemed to be Latin for, “the birds are flying through the wall.” Yep. My dream person must have been messing with me that night. (It did lead me to taking a free online course to study Latin, however. If you’re interested, I put the link at the end of this post.)
But if the translation of a dream phrase makes sense, a story could come from that. I thought about my last dream. Something about dyeing my hair blue and riding a train barefoot...we won’t even go there.
Reading interviews from various writers was interesting though. I was happy to read that, they too, shared days in which blank computer screens mocked them. Holdstock asserted that he liked to think of those days as a “writer’s pause” and not a block. “The world is there, but sometimes the words aren't. I don't try to overcome it.” Nice. I could relate to that.
Gaiman lucidly states, “Blaming “Writer’s Block” is wonderful. It removes any responsibility from the person with the “block.” It gives you something to blame, and it sounds fancy. But it’s probably more honest to think of it as a combination of laziness, perfectionism and Getting Stuck. If you’re being lazy, don’t be. If you’re being a perfectionist, don’t be. And if you’re stuck, figure out where the story went off the rails, or what you got wrong, or where you need to go deeper, or what you need to add to make it work, and then start writing again.”
Wise words and a nice kick in the pants. I’ll have to refer to that when I’m banging my head on my computer because I’ve deleted pages and pages of text while lamenting that I’ve wasted six hours of my life.
Or trying to come up with something to write in my blog.
Seriously, though, if I have a writer’s block when writing fiction, I usually sleep on it. By morning (or several mornings later) something comes and it all makes sense again. Jumping on my trampoline and running with my dog, those seem to work too but take more effort.
But it was Saturday night and I needed to come up with something now, I whined to myself.
I turned my attention again to the blank computer screen and began, “Bear with me this week because I really hit a wall…”
Tonight, my Latin speaking dream people will probably be talking to me all night long--and maybe next week my post won’t be as difficult.

Sources for interview quotes:

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