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See the living crocodiles - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
See the living crocodiles
It's mythically true, if not actually true, that professional writers of fiction are forever being asked where they get their ideas. Who the hell asks these dumb questions? I don't need to know where to get ideas. They soak in through my ears and my eyes and my fingertips, welling up behind my eyes like an acid bath of overloaded metaphor. If ideas were portions of fruit and vegetables, and if portions of fruit and vegetables really cured all known diseases, I'd be appearing on chat shows to talk about what it's like being immortal and whether that unique perspective on life really gives you a better chance of working out who's going to win Celebrity Big Brother.

What I want to know is how you get the tools or the time or the what-is-it-that-it-is to hammer those ideas into cogs and wheels and sprockets and pipes and valves that can be bolted or welded together into actual working machinery which can take stuff in at one end and spit different stuff out at the other. Because frankly in my limited experience the process seems to have entirely too much in common with attempting to weave writing-desks out of feathers.

The other question is whether sticking a lot of nuts and bolts et cetera on a big sheet of off-white canvas in any way constitutes Art, and -- ah! -- solving that question brings the accountants galumphing over the horizon, and that's before the critics are at the door, licking their gleaming teeth.
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bluedevi From: bluedevi Date: February 1st, 2006 01:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
*applause*
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From: rgl Date: February 1st, 2006 01:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
I actually have the reverse problem (in writing music, this is). The rate-limiting step for me is coming up with sufficiently good material - making a coherent structure I find quite a lot easier. I often find myself knowing what sort of music I want in a particular section but being unable to think of anything good that will fit.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 2nd, 2006 03:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
If more of my ideas were musical, I'd gladly share them! :) Unfortunately my only excursions into composition (for GCSE and A-Level music) were by and large pretty uninspired. In fact I would blush to show them to anybody who knew their arias from their Elbow.

This comment didn't start out just being a vehicle for a pun, honest.
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j4 From: j4 Date: February 1st, 2006 01:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Now you can seal up the book and not write anymore

I think it's like music: if you don't need to do it, you're not going to be able to do it.

I think it's more like food: you can need it all you want, but at the end of the day your need doesn't make the crops grow.

Good news about your father's novel, though.
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verlaine From: verlaine Date: February 1st, 2006 01:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very well put.

At confirmation class last night (but that's a tale for another post), the vicar was telling us that communing with God means escaping from all those pesky ideas into a place beyond thought and self. He said that the best time to achieve a good satisfying state of prayer was when you were bored. But, but, I stammered, I'm never bored! Too many ideas! And I love them all like children!
j4 From: j4 Date: February 1st, 2006 02:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Too many ideas! And I love them all like children!

Any parent, however devoted, needs some child-free time now and then.

I find that it's not so much boredom as routine that gives me space for the mindset which I think correlates most closesly with what you might call "prayer" -- whether I find that routine in the formal patterns of choral Evensong or the soft domestic rhythms of knitting, cleaning, folding clothes. It's the clicking of rosary beads, the turning of prayer wheels, the steps of a dance; it's weaving yourself into a pattern.

Boredom, for me, is something different: it's that horrible combination of lethargy and restlessness, residual momentum without direction. It's desperately looking for the patterns in the static. It's like sitting in an uncomfortable chair, waiting for a film to end, only to find that the film was your life and it's not a double-feature.

Boredom terrifies me.
barrysarll From: barrysarll Date: February 1st, 2006 01:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh heavens, someone asked that at the Moore and Moorcock talk, and you could practically hear the indrawn breath. The rest of the audience practically lynched them, never mind the guest writers.

Getting those images and ideas and vignettes into some form of workable whole is indeed the killer. Or so I find, but then I suppose some people make passable lives for themselves writing cohesive but uninspired stories, or films, or songs.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 2nd, 2006 03:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
The thing that annoys me is that once you're a successful writer you seem to be able to get away with publishing books of unfocused ideas and vignettes etc., but I get the impression that nobody would accept a book like that from an unknown.

cohesive but uninspired

It's what I was saying, er, down there, or maybe up there, in another comment anyway, about art v. craft. Well-crafted books are the "good solid home cooking" of reading IMHO. And sometimes you don't want "inspired" cooking, sometimes you just want e.g. fish and chips done properly, with just the right amount of batter on the fish, and chips that aren't too greasy or too crunchy, and DAMN I'M HUNGRY NOW.
hairyears From: hairyears Date: February 1st, 2006 01:53 pm (UTC) (Link)


Where do you get your ideas... In my case, this will require the assistance of a doctor with a flashlight.

In the case of X, Y and McZ the paperback author, their latest bestselling thriller contains an avalanche of presidents, plots, jesters, terrorists, virulent virii and lords-a-leaping... and would've made a more compelling narrative if they'd all had one idea and stuck with it.

One idea means one story. Two ideas equals a complicated story. Multiple 'ideas' means the optimal deus ex machina is to stop at the penultimate chapter and use the book as a doorstop, firelighter or parrot-cage axminster carpet.

As you say: the difficult bit is making the idea work on and with the characters and the narrative.


rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: February 1st, 2006 03:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
One idea means one story. Two ideas equals a complicated story. Multiple 'ideas' means the optimal deus ex machina is to stop at the penultimate chapter and use the book as a doorstop, firelighter or parrot-cage axminster carpet.

I wish to disagree with this, on the grounds that three ideas is the least a short story needs unless one is a genius, and I do not think there are that many of those working in the world at the moment - can think of two or three off the top of my head; and a novel that isn't giving me some new concept, perspective, thing about characterisation or other interesting development every few pages is headed nowhere fast.

Though perhaps we're just using "idea" on a different scale.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: February 1st, 2006 01:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Have a look at that Julia Cameron book The Artist's Way.

You are a wonderful writer and someday I shall enjoy reading your works in print. I have an idea, in fact [vbg]...
j4 From: j4 Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
*meep*

Will look out for the book. Email to follow. :)
juggzy From: juggzy Date: February 1st, 2006 03:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know. Sometimes, I think, if it doesn't hurt, it's only hack work. And then I look at some of the hack work, and think "Well, that's not bad," and I look at some of the stuff that really really hurt and I want to go and flush my head down the toilet of embarassment to the sewer of wankiness.

A whole book, though, a whole book! What a marvel that would be.
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: February 1st, 2006 03:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
What I want to know is how you get the tools or the time or the what-is-it-that-it-is to hammer those ideas into cogs and wheels and sprockets and pipes and valves that can be bolted or welded together into actual working machinery which can take stuff in at one end and spit different stuff out at the other.

The tools do seem to come with practice, and also with talking endlessly about process with other people who do it and playing with the things that have worked for them to see if they work for you. [ The world does not need, for example, a set of short stories that are riffs on a set of Leonard Cohen songs, but it's still an interesting exercise in some ways. ]

As for getting time, energy, motivation... it seems the particular value of obsessive-compulsive I do is actually rather good for that. Which is not the most sharable thing in the world, alas.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
The world does not need, for example, a set of short stories that are riffs on a set of Leonard Cohen songs

This particular bit of the world would be interested to read them, though. :-)

I fear that for me the talking-endlessly-about-process would be the novel-writing equivalent of buying self-help books: that is, a substitute for Actually Doing Stuff. But, still.

On the subject of creative writing exercises (and I don't mean that phrase to sound quite as sneery as I now fear it does), I wish somebody had told Stephen Millhauser that the world did not really need a 'story' which is a frame-by-frame description of an imagined comic-strip version of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Nonetheless, I am in some obscure way glad to know that such a thing can exist...
jvvw From: jvvw Date: February 1st, 2006 06:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Have you seen Neil Gaimen's (easily googlable I'd have thought?) article where he says almost exactly the same thing - that's it's not getting the ideas but hammering them into something that's the hard part?
j4 From: j4 Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have... but thank you for the reminder to find it and read it again and bookmark it this time!

And in case anybody else is reading this & hasn't seen it: "Where do you get your ideas?" by Neil Gaiman.
camellia_uk From: camellia_uk Date: February 1st, 2006 09:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
What I want to know is how you get the tools or the time or the what-is-it-that-it-is to hammer those ideas into cogs and wheels and sprockets and pipes and valves that can be bolted or welded together into actual working machinery which can take stuff in at one end and spit different stuff out at the other.

Did you know that that's, like, the topic of my phd? :-S
If I find an answer, I'll let you know...
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would be fascinated to hear more about this at some point, fwiw.
oldbloke From: oldbloke Date: February 1st, 2006 09:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Woman I shared an office with up to end of Dec does short stories (had one in Granta), all seems to be built on evening classes in Creative Writing. Oh and she's done a play, too. Which may get put on in some small place in the Lake District. blackberry44 goes to a poetry class. I think having lots of feedback from experienced writers and writers at the same level as them helps quite a lot.
oldbloke From: oldbloke Date: February 1st, 2006 09:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
NB The above in no way modifies my position that 99.9% of poetry is crap and 99.9% of fiction has no effect on how the world turns. Implied smiley.
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