Where Do Your Ideas Come From?

One of my writing groups meets once a week. We talk for fifteen or thirty minutes while everyone gets there. Then we write for an hour and a half. Afterwards, we take turns reading a three minute segment from whatever we have written. It is not a critique group so only positive comments are allowed. We all have other source of the kind of critique one needs to hone their work. This meeting is to give us a time and place to write uninterrupted and then share the victory of getting words on paper with like minded people.

Often, before we start writing, we talk about what we plan to write. Some people are working on novels, some on short stories. Sometimes, they don’t even know what they are going to write. That is the place I started from three weeks ago.

I started writing with no particular plot in mind. The character and setting faded in as I was writing like the beginning of a movie. I recorded what was happening as it occurred to me. Mind you, after I wrote the first segment, I went back and took notes. I listed all the characters and what we had discovered about them as the story unfolded. I even filled in backstory that I thought might be useful in later parts of the story. I also noted every location that appeared in the story.

The second week, I started where I had left off. I still didn’t have a clear idea of where the story was going. I had some ideas about the broad outline of the story that had begun to come into focus as I wrote. And the characters began to take on depth. Each week I discovered new, mysterious facts about my characters and their background. The main character was trying to figure out why he woke up ninety years in the past.

The third week, I again took up where I had left off the previous week. The main character started making short term decisions about how he was going to survive in this strange yet familiar environment. It was while writing this segment that I realized that unlike so many things that I had written, this felt more akin to watching a story unfold in a movie, like someone else was writing the story and I was just observing.

At some point I am going to have to step in and tighten up the story. Cull out things that don’t move the story forward. Add exposition where it isn’t clear exactly what is going on. But that will all have to wait until I find out what happens in this story. Where it ends up. What happens along the way. How the main character changes as a result of what happens to him.

This is how I’ve imagined writing to be. I have always been too anxious about figuring out the plot and describing the characters. It is refreshing to relax and let the characters tell me about themselves and the story to unfold as it wants to. I have a vague fear that I am pulling a delicate thread out of my subconscious and if I pull to hard it will break and I won’t find out how the story ends.

I’ve been having a lot of anxiety dreams centering on the overwhelming bulk of news that is flowing through our daily experience. You can’t seem to escape it. It’s all that is talked about on the news and on the phone or social media when you talk with friends. I used to have trouble remembering my dreams but here lately, they last longer into the day. Even longer if I tell them to someone or write them down.

I’m wondering if the reason that I’m having such luck with the story I’m writing is that I want to think about something other than the pandemic that is dominating so much of our waking, and dreaming, hours. In either case, I’m thankful for it.

Be safe, wash your hands, maintain social distance, and wear a mask if you have to go out.