Jaye Wells

Tag Archives: Ideas

Craft Thursday: Ideas Are Oxygen

If you’re a writer for any length of time, especially once you’re published, you will inevitably be ask the dreaded question: “Where do you get your ideas?”

I’ll pause now for the authors in the audience to shudder.

It’s not that this question in and of itself is a bad one, its just … well, it’s the wrong question. The truth is writers–and I’d guess most creative people who produce regularly–usually don’t have to look for ideas. Ideas are in our DNA. We don’t know how NOT to be inspired.

Perhaps Kevin J. Anderson put it best yesterday on twitter: “”People often ask, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ I always wonder, ‘How do the rest of you stop them from coming?'”

So why is it the wrong question? Well, it presumes that ideas are enough. They are not. Ideas, as I’ve mentioned are always there for me, the trick is what to do with them. The most brilliant story seed in the world is worthless without doing the work to help that seed reach its potential as a delicate rose or a toothy Venus flytrap or a towering redwood.

The right question, the one you really want answered, is “How do you do that?” And the answer–not the one you want but the one that’s true is–I don’t have a clue.

I like to think of myself as a logical, practical person, but I am also a neurotic, superstitious mess sometimes. Especially about the creative process. So when someone asks me to impose logic on something that is inherently illogical, I freeze up and joke. Or I sidestep it entirely and change the subject because, frankly, I don’t know how to tell you what I do.

I just do it. I do it because I love to tell stories. I do it because I love to play with words. I do it because it’s part of my DNA. I don’t know how not to find inspiration every day. I don’t know how not be endlessly curious about people. And I don’t know how to ignore the voice in my head that says, “This, this is worth exploring. And when you’re done playing with it, you have to share it with other people.”

Earlier, I was looking for a quote to use in something I was writing and ran across one of my favorite Joseph Campbell quotes:

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.”

Stories are my sacred place. Writing them is meditation. Sharing them is worship. And just like any great and sacred mystery, it only really works if you don’t look too hard for the man behind the curtain.

When I was a newer writer, I’d sit a trying to analyze it all. I thought real writers understood these things and more than anything I wanted to be a real writer. I’d beg and cajole my subconscious to offer up a perfect idea. But the id is fickle, the collective subconscious is a mysterious beast, and muses don’t take kindly to ultimatums.

These days, I find that the less I analyze this whole crazy creative process, the more creative I am. The less I try to tame things and make them nice and neat and easy to grasp, the more wild and exciting the work will be. The more I let my imagination play and the more I have fun with it, the more rich and satisfying my stories become. So, no, I won’t try to encapsulate a very complex and layered process of creation into a palatable sound bite.

Creating is part how I’m wired, part everything that I’ve ever experienced, seen and done, and part mystery that I’ve given up trying to understand. And that’s the best answer I can give you about how and why I write.

What’s your oxygen? (Besides, you know, actual oxygen) Where is your sacred place?