One of my neighbors is an 84-year-old widow. She recently had me over for tea. (I think this is an 80+ thing because my grandma is always having people over for tea as well.)
Anyway. We talked a bit about my being a writer and the question was immediately asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Of course, the answer is everywhere. And that once you start writing that first idea they just seem to grow exponentially because you’ve told some part of your mind that it needs to start collecting ideas and so it’s back there happily picking up new shinies everywhere you go.
Some person makes an interesting comment, idea. Some news article mentions something you’ve never heard of, idea. A person you cross on the street has an interesting hat or nose or way of walking, idea. You get your heart broken, five ideas. You meet someone you like, a zillion ideas.
But for me there’s also another component to it. And that’s that I’ll have the big idea for a while, but I need to wait for the tumblers to click into place to unlock the whole idea.
So maybe I think about writing a story with a young girl who finds a dragon in a cave. (One of my maybe someday stories I’ve had for a while.) But that story just sort of sits there percolating with no real direction to go.
Until someone makes a comment to me one day and I hear that little tumbler turn and lock into place. Ah, it’s not just a story of a young girl who finds shelter with a dragon in a cave, but the dragon has a story to tell.
And then the idea goes back to percolating some more until the next little piece appears. (I can’t take that particular example too far because that’s about as far as it is for me right now.)
Sometimes you can make your brain bring up the rest of the story by starting to write. There are little bits bubbling around back there that your brain can bring in if you get started but they’re buried too deep or are too peripheral to the core story to click into place just by thinking about the main idea.
But for me it feels like sometimes I’m waiting for that serendipitous conversation to really trigger the whole thing. I can’t write X book now because in six months someone is going to make a passing comment about a book that sounds interesting and I’m going to read that book a year later and that concept the person talks about in the book will suddenly give dimension to the story.
And sometimes that wait is agonizing. Like I just know I’m missing one more piece on this one, where is it?
And, yes, sometimes you can just sit down and write the story you have. But it isn’t necessarily the story that it could be if that one little piece were there. It’s a delicate process waiting for all the little pieces to drop into place, but when it happens it’s magic.