Stephen King, Master of the Macabre and author par excellence, when asked where he gets his ideas, used to say something like, “I subscribe to an idea clearing house. For a low fee they send me one idea a month.” On his website he says:
‘I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it’s seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question ‘What if?’ ‘What if’ is always the key question.’
Marcel Proust, Master of the Life of the Mind and writer par excellence, says:
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Marcel and Stephen are, I think, saying the same thing in these quotes. Ideas come when we see or experience something that may be something we see or experience (or hear, or taste…) frequently and instead of thinking “here I am, falling asleep on an airplane again”, you think, “here I am falling asleep on an airplane again…what if I wake up and almost everyone else has disappeared?” (Stephen King’s The Langoliers)
Good idea. Or instead of thinking, “here I am, driving to my job again”, you think, “here I am, driving to my job again…what if I quit and started writing that novel that I always wanted to write?”
Possibly a bad idea, unless you are Marcel Proust and independently wealthy (and who actually never drove and never had a job, but stay with me here).
Look over to the right at the last column on this blog. You’ll see two badges there, one that says Nanowrimo 2009 and one for Nanowrimo 2010. I should have a badge over there that reads “Nanowrimo 2009 winner” but I thought the badge design was goofy (yes, even goofier than the two that are there) and so didn’t post it. Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month and the idea is that you challenge yourself, in the month of November, to write a 50,000 word novel. If you achieve this goal, you “win”. And you get a goofy badge.
I don’t know whose idea Nanowrimo is, but I thought “What if…” and although I didn’t quit my job, I did write over 50,000 words and learned that I could write the novel I had in my head for so long. And another thing I learned was that, when the Idea Clearing House sends you that monthly idea, if you don’t write it down immediately, the idea is withdrawn from your mind and sent on to someone else.
So since last year’s experience, I have been capturing as many of the “what if” ideas that have come my way and am now ready to start the next 50.000 words. Nanowrimo begins on November 1st. Look at life with new eyes, and if you decide to ask yourself, “what if I sign up for this?” and you end up 30 days later with your first novel, remember where you got this idea and dedicate the book to me. And Marcel Proust. And Stephen King. It’s a really good idea.