Many writers keep a handy notebook for jotting down random ideas that spring to mind or observations they make as they go about their lives have some resonance for them. When I decided that I was going to throw myself into fiction writing, I spent a year or so with such a notebook in my bag. But it stayed in my bag for the most part. I looked around, I listened to people’s conversations, I noticed the quirky, the fascinating, the poignant. But I didn’t feel drawn to record any of it.
I don’t write down ideas for new stories as they occur to me either. I have done this occasionally, but these half-formed ideas mock me with their incompleteness. What’s the point of this three sentence outline of a setting without a plot or characters? Why did I bother to record that I wanted to write something futuristic about refugees? The trouble is, I have so many ideas popping into my head and writing them down gives them a substance they don’t yet deserve. Those ideas, they’re the ones people tell you about when you tell them you’re a writer. “I’ve got this really good idea for a book,” they start and they know and you know that the idea is not enough.
There are, of course, all sorts of ideas knocking around in my head. Once you open your mind to the possibility of story-telling, what-if and I-wonder become a habit. Sometimes the ideas come so thick and fast, I have to block them out by focusing in on the tiny details of what I’m writing at the moment. When I’m editing something I’ve written and rewritten, something that’s become so familiar that I can almost quote it, it’s hard to stop those delicious little nuggets of something new invading my head. Writing these ideas down until I’ve got time to consider them might seem like the obvious thing to do. I mean, what if the perfect idea only occurs to you once and then it’s lost forever?
The thing is though, the really good ideas, the ones that I can nurture and grow are the ones that keep coming back. They start as a tiny snippet of a thought, just the same as all the others. But the good ideas reappear, maybe exactly the same as the first time, maybe with a slightly different slant. Perhaps one idea will attach itself to another. They’re still just flitting though my mind. I’m not really paying attention. Just enough to think, “Hmm. Interesting.” I’m not ready yet. The idea’s not ready.
Then, one day, if the idea’s insistent enough, if I’ve got headspace and time to consider it, I’ll let all those pieces of thought and observations and what-ifs coalesce and see what I’ve got. Does it have any substance? Is it something I really want to devote hundreds of hours of my time to? Is it something someone else will want to devote a few hours of their time reading about? Do I love it enough?
And mostly, I find I do.