“Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?”

Not that people ask me this much, but they might someday, if I ever manage to submit something publishable to the right editor.  And I’ve got a story I’m revising that’s kicking my arse right now, so any excuse to not work on that is deeply welcome.  At least here I’m still quote-unquote writing.

So where do my ideas come from?  A few have obvious inspirations (I have a draft of a story detailing the thoughts of a man falling to his death after reading a story in which some nameless red-shirt fell to his death, for instance).  For the most part they just seem to pop into my head from out of nowhere, usually at really inconvenient times and only very occasionally when I’m actually at the keyboard writering away at something.  There are some people (Steven Pressfield, for instance) who believe such inspiration to be divine, a whisper from eternity.  Others, like Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight, place its source in their own subconscious, in an entity they name the Silent Partner and Fred, respectively, an entity who can be communicated with, but never spoken to, as such, and who can be trained, or at least encouraged, to focus and produce.

Myself I likely fall more into the latter camp, though I’m open to the notions of the former, as well.  I see mine as an absent-minded tinkerer in a vast and intimate workshop strewn with half-finished projects and blueprints for notions still in their conceptual stages.  He’s (and it’s definitely a ‘he’) not so much behind the curtain as in another building in the complex, one my conscious mind doesn’t have clearance to enter.  We communicate by way of a sort of convoluted mail system, possibly involving ravens, some of which must certainly go astray.

He doesn’t check his inbox very regularly.  He does, however, send me half-baked ideas and notions about whatever project he’s currently tinkering with, no matter what that project’s place on my action list.  All the time.  If I goad him enough he’ll stick mostly to one thing, though, and when he gets focused he can be amazingly productive.

He’s too proud of his creations, though, and doesn’t like to see their flaws.  I don’t like to, either, but sometimes I do anyway, and I have to give him notes.  He hates that.  He wants to be finished with things, even though he never really is.  There’s always more fine-tuning that can be done, another coat of prosaic semi-gloss if nothing else (he loves surfaces).

He is, like me, difficult to wrangle, and we’ve both been a little resentful lately.  I think this story is kicking both our arses, to be honest.  We’ve been at this one a long time, and both thought it was finished at least twice in the last year.  But then I keep seeing gaps and other problems and he keeps finding more components to strap to the chassis, more layers to add to the mix.  And all of a sudden we’re pulling things apart and putting them back together again and it’s not so much that it’s a whole new thing, it’s just this whole other thing, too, on top of and/or integrated with the pre-existing thing.  And, of course –the Damoclean sword– there’s no guarantee that the thing’s going to work, in whatever configuration, no matter how many layers of substance and surface we can put into and onto it.

And now the tinkerer has done me a doozy.  He’s given me something to fill in one of my story’s biggest lacunae, some imagery and symbolism and other literary legerdemain that has the potential to bridge a span I was hoping the reader wouldn’t notice we were leaping together.  Theoretically I’m happy about this, even though it pushes the end of this draft even further back than it already was.  But it’s tricky stuff he’s giving me to work with, potentially dangerous mojo with a real possibility of blowing up in my face, and I have to think for awhile about how to make it work, if I even can.

I think this is his way of getting back at me for working us both so hard lately.  I wonder what he’ll get up to while I’m distracted.

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