[Be forewarned: This is kind of a weird post. It’s as much an attempt on my part to work through issues in my own creative process as it is anything else.]
There’s someone new in my life.
I don’t know much about her; I don’t even know her name. At least not yet. But I know that she’s unlike anyone I’ve known before, at least in the intimate way that I hope to know her. She’s not beautiful in any conventional sense of the word. Nor does she have an exciting job or really anything that makes her stand out upon first meeting her. She seems a little plain, actually.
But that’s terribly misleading. She is utterly unique, and through her eyes I am discovering a whole new world.
Who is she?
Well, I believe she is the point of view character for a new book. I say “I believe” because I’m not entirely sure. I’ve had characters come to me before, bearing with them the promise of a new story or book or series, only to have the idea fizzle out on me before anything meaningful came of it. But this woman is different. I think.
I’ve already written several posts about ideas — where they come from, how I go about cultivating and developing them, etc. Here’s one. And here’s another. If you read that second post, you’ll see that when I wrote it, more than a year ago, I had a new idea that had me all excited. Never turned into anything. I have a few pages jotted down, and even the beginning of chapter one. But as Faith might say, it never really sparkled and I moved on to other things. Will that happen with this new woman in my life? It could. I hope it doesn’t — I’m really quite smitten with her right now. But we never really know until we start working.
As I said in those previous posts, I have no idea where my ideas come from. I have talked about the “What if?” approach — the notion that asking “What if?” can often lead to terrific story ideas. But as often as not ideas come to me unbidden, at odd moments, as opposed to when I’m actually trying to think of something new. Some of my ideas suck. I mean really, really suck. Some of them turn into a series of books. And occasionally I have an idea that I think might change the trajectory of my career. Thieftaker was one of those last. This new idea might be one, too.
I guess the point of all this is not the idea or where it came from. Rather it’s what you do with the idea once it takes root in your imagination. I’m not ready to write the story of my new infatuation. She’s doing everything she can to grab my attention, and believe me when I tell you that she has it. But I have other work to do — revisions on two books, rewrites on another, a short story to write and yet another novel to finish. And so I need to find a way to nurture this new creative romance without giving myself over to it entirely. Let me share with you a Tale of Two Ideas. The first one came to me in 1999, while I was writing EAGLE-SAGE, the third LonTobyn book. This was at a point in my career where a) I wrote far more slowly than I do now, and b) I was not yet comfortable with the idea of working on two projects at once. So, though I had what I thought was a truly terrific idea for a new series, one that I was eager to write because, to be honest, I was growing a bit weary of LonTobyn, there was little I could do about it. I could think about the new idea. I could jot down snippets about my characters and plot threads. But I had to finish EAGLE-SAGE before I did anything else.
That idea, which formed the basis for my Winds of the Forelands quintet, churned away in my head for well over a year, becoming more complex, more complete, and more compelling from an artistic standpoint with every day that passed. When at last I got to work on the series, it developed into the finest work I had done to that point.
The second idea is that one that I mention in the second post about ideas (see the links above). The idea came to me in early September ’09, at a time when I actually had a few weeks to play. I jumped all over it, doing a bunch of research, jotting down notes, and actually beginning the book itself. As I said before, the idea fizzled, although I just went back read those first five pages of the book, as well as my notes on the book idea. They’re good, the writing and the idea both. But I feel like I used up the creative energy too soon. Or not used it up so much as weakened it. I’ve said before that I can’t talk too much about a project before I write it. I liken my creative energy to the fizz in a beer. If I open the bottle too early and let out the fizz, the idea goes flat and I lose my creative momentum. I think that works as well with jumping the gun on an idea. (Extending the metaphor) I need a certain amount of time for an idea to ferment, to create that fizz in the first place, and I think that with this second idea, I didn’t give it enough time.
So, what does this mean for the new woman in my life? Really, I’m not sure. (I warned you that this was a weird post.) I want to jot down some notes on this woman and start working out plot points; I don’t want to forget the stuff that’s coming to me right now. But I know that I don’t have time to work on her story yet, and I am afraid of interrupting the fermentation of her idea. There must be a middle ground between, on the one hand, doing nothing and thus risking that I might forget some of these neat details bouncing around in my brain, and on the other, letting out too much of the creative “fizz.” I just need to find it.
What do you do when new ideas come to you? Is your creative process as idiosyncratic (neurotic?) as mine seems to be?David B. Coe