This weekend I attended RavenCon in Richmond, Virginia, as did Misty. It was a fun con. I had the chance to catch up with many of my friends in the industry who I don’t get to see very often, including not only Misty, but also writer and editor Edmund Schubert, who guest blogged here at MW a few months ago. I was on a few panels, I signed some books, and I gave a couple of readings, one of my own work and another of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” (The con commemorated the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allen Poe’s birth by naming him “Ghost of Honor” and having various guests give readings of his poems and stories.)
As always, the con energized me, which is good because during the course of the weekend I was asked to submit short stories to two anthologies and I also discussed a possible novel collaboration with a friend. I gave a good deal of thought to the next novel in my new series and I started thinking once more about a possible non-fiction book idea that I’ve been kicking around for a while. Faith has written before about how attending conventions or writing workshops can give a writer a creative kick in the pants. It often does that for me; it certainly did this weekend.
The experience got me thinking about ideas and their origins. I’m asked all the time where I get my ideas, and it’s a question I hate trying to answer — Faith has posted about this as well (she takes all the good ideas….). The fact is, I have no clue as to where I get my ideas. Sometimes they simply come to me. Robert Frost once said “An idea is a feat of association,” and it’s true. I’ll think of something or ask myself a “What if…?” question, which will prompt another thought, and then another, and the next thing I know I have four books outlined in my head. It’s not something I plan; it’s not something I can explain; and it’s certainly not something I can force.
There was a time, though, when I feared that I might run out of ideas, that I might finish one book or set of books, and realize that my well had run dry, that there was nothing left. No more ideas. No more stories. No more characters. Time to learn accounting….
I’ve come to realize that this is never going to happen. My fear now is that I won’t get to explore all my ideas. I have so many story ideas these days, so many books or series that I want to write, and I just don’t know when I’m going to write them all or how I’ll get them all contracted. One of my friends at the con came to me with an anthology idea and though I’d never considered writing a story dealing with the anthology’s theme, I had a story idea literally within seconds of her pitch. When someone else asked me about writing for the second anthology that I mentioned before, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it because the theme was related to my new series. I don’t have a story idea for this one yet, but I know — I know — that a story will come to me. That’s kind of a cool feeling. I have ideas for at least three more books in the new series I’ve started. I have an idea for another series and yet another for a stand alone novel. And then there’s the collaboration I mentioned.
I feel like my imagination is on fire right now, and I’m not sure why that is. I have theories, though. As I said before, I can’t really explain where my ideas come from, but I’m sure that they’re rooted in my life experiences. That’s not an earth-shattering statement, I realize. But that doesn’t make it any less true. On the one hand, this is a tumultuous time in my life. My kids are emerging from the calm of early childhood and stepping into their teen and tween years respectively. We have had a fairly dramatic year in our little town, with many (too many) tragedies and dramas, most of them involving friends. In an artistic sense I’m still processing the experience of having lived abroad (in Australia) for a year. But on the other hand this is also a time of great stability and contentment in my life. I’m happier than I can ever remember being. My career isn’t exactly where I’d like it to be, but I’m doing all right. I love my family, and I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have.
I believe that this odd combination of tumult and stability explains where all these ideas are coming from. On the one hand, there is plenty of creative fodder all around me. There are enough things happening in my life and in the lives of those I know and love to keep me thinking and asking “What if…?” for a good long time. But on the other hand (and this, I think, is key) I have enough calm in my personal life to be able to turn my attention to those questions and sources of inspiration. Several years back, when I lost both my parents in the span of 14 months, I could barely bring myself to write at all. Grief sucked the energy right out of me. Had I been able to turn those experiences into art I probably would have had an easier time of it, but I couldn’t. I was hurting too much to write. And so maybe an additional element in what I’m experiencing now is that I’m finally far enough away from the pain to turn those experiences into grist for the creative mill as well.
I’m not sure I’m making myself clear, and I’m not sure that what I’m writing is very helpful to any of you who are reading this. Ideas come from within, obviously. They also come from our interactions with the outside world. That’s obvious, too. And maybe the secret to being able to draw on both sources of ideas is finding the emotional balance between experience and contentment, between chaos and calm, between pain and healing. I have no secret to finding writing ideas. I don’t know how to make them come to me on demand, so I can’t tell you how to do it. In many ways, inspiration might be the most idiosyncratic aspect of the writing process. But for me at least, writing ideas are more likely to come when I’m at ease, when my mind can focus on creativity rather than on grief or anxiety or anger.
Sadly, I have no secret for imparting emotional tranquility, either. I happen to be in a good place right now, and my creative juices are flowing. (I’m knocking on wood for about the eighth time since starting this post.) Perhaps the point I’m getting at is that if you feel that the ideas aren’t flowing right now, it may be that your emotional energy is concentrated elsewhere. And that may be how it has to be. Life creates its own imperatives. This might not be your time for creative exploration. That doesn’t mean that the ideas won’t come eventually, or that you won’t find a way sometime in the future to turn your current life issues into story ideas. Sometimes creativity requires patience. This doesn’t mean that you should stop writing; far from it. Journals, blogs, political writing, poems, character studies, worldbuilding histories. There’s a ton of stuff you can write while you wait for your muse to return. And when the ideas begin to flow again, you’ll be ready.David B. Coe http://magicalwords.net http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com http://www.davidbcoe.com