Where Do Ideas Come From?

Do you know the answer? I don’t.  Sometimes I wonder if the brain that connects to my fingers is even the same brain that connects to my mouth.

The Knowledgeable Writing Advice Experts say, “Write it the way you would say it,” but I don’t speak the way I write. For one thing, why would I want to? There are words that work tremendously well on the page that sit unwieldy on the tongue and sound unbearably pretentious to the ear.  (Pretentious is one of those words.)

The ideas that hit when I’m writing pop out of someplace in my head that I can’t see, can’t feel, can’t contact at all, unless I have a screen in front of me and a keyboard under my fingers. Even then, it isn’t smooth sailing. Often I get a niggling feel of an idea, I know a character needs to say something, but my mind is a blank on what it is. It’s a disturbing, yet thrilling experience.

They say, “Let it come. Don’t get hung up on any given point. Keep writing. Put down something and move on. Don’t get stuck it.” (Do you hear evil echoes of “think of the word count! Get that draft done at all costs! Forward momentum über alles!” I do. I try to drown them out with loud rock music.)

The experts  might as well tell a hungry mouse not to get stuck in an irresistible peanut-scented glue trap. It’s worse than useless to advise against finding the right words, when the act of putting them together is the key to me making contact with my own ideas. It’s worse than useless, because it lays a burden of guilt on my shoulders. Once again I Am Doing It All Wrong. This is a theme for me.

Here’s my advice: refuse to feel guilty about writing a pesky sentence or scene over and over and over because there’s an idea inside that needs to come out, if you can only chip away at all the wrong ideas that are in the way. If that’s how you work, then embrace it, and make yourself a cuppa.

That’s how my writing brain works, and I’m going accept that I can’t work “the way I should.” Ideas bleed out my fingertips, unfiltered by my conscious talking brain. If I just keep writing a sentence, rejecting it and writing it again, then the idea I mean to communicate will eventually take shape like a sculpture carved from all the words that ever could be. If I leave it in its first rough, spiny form, it will chafe me raw and send me bleeding away from my writing corner to lick my wounds.

Sure, I know I might stare at the screen forever and never come any closer to learning what the missing something is. I could also lie on the couch watching my toes, or take  long walks, or work in the garden, and have no better results.  I don’t take creative obsession to absurd lengths. If revelation does not occur within a given writing session, I will write whatever comes to mind and move on with a cheery cry of “good enough!.”

But I know, deep down, that I haven’t got it yet, and a wrong-feeling passage will task me like a toothache. I will come back to the same piece of dialogue or description over and over, as a warm up to each writing session, like probing a sore tooth with the tongue.  I will scrape and scratch until I make contact with the sore spot of story that wants to come to the surface and be laid bare.


Oh, hey–if you got this far, could you drop me a comment so I know that some human eyes rested on these glowing phosphorous pixels? I know I’m only shouting into the void, out here, but it’d be nice to hear an answering “hallooo!”  once in a while, not just echoes.

A lot of hits on this blog come from industrious little net-bots working for spam referral sites (I tell ya, these interwebz, they are teh amazing) but I retain hope that real people are reading as well.

Anonymity is fine, as long as you’re not abusive.  A simple “First!” or some other meaningless declaration would be acceptable.


3 responses to “Where Do Ideas Come From?”

  1. Clobdell3 Avatar

    K.M.,I think this is a great point on writing – you know somewhere buried in that mass of words is the idea you want to express but it just won't appear in any recognizable shape, so keep rewriting, reforming sentences, and reshaping the flow until that pesky idea finally pokes its perfectly formed head out of the morass of verbiage. In my last job, I once rewrote a 3-page analytical report on anti-nuclear political movements 15 times before I was satisfied with. Thinking and staring off into space never helped with the earlier drafts, only actually writing over and over shaped the piece into a useful piece. See, real people do read this. However, I'll pass on commenting on your latest post on sickness, fevers, and bodily fluids, other than to say glad to read you are feeling better.

  2. seichorn Avatar

    I heartily encourage a lack of guilt that your process is different from others’! Mine isn’t the same either. I don’t know anyone else who has to write out their drafts on paper. And while I have friends who do NaNo every year, I can’t. I can’t force myself to get a number of words everyday, or I feel wholly inadequate, even after an incredibly successful day. It took me months to figure out how to string sentences together and years to work on my revision process (which I’ll be revising for years yet). After all that work, how could we expect there to be a right way? The right way is whatever gets you to a finished book.

    1. Dawnrigger Avatar

      Yes, it is so. Defiance of procedural norms is a topic I revisit once a month or so, to keep my emotional energy up, because the sad truth is, many folk (some with advice books to sell or workshops to fill, others who have invested themselves into learning said techniques) who do feel there are Right Ways, and they have no problem proclaiming that the product of any other method is inherently inferior.

      I wish I was joking. :p