One of my favorite things in the world is to read what people who write for a career have to say about the writing process. If anyone can explain it, they can. My favorite subject is always the question “where do you get your ideas from?” Anyone who has ever done any writing knows that this question is impossible to answer. It doesn’t matter how amateur your actual writing is, your ideas always originate from the same place. Sure, you can cobble something together about articles and prior influences. But really, it’s like asking someone why they dreamed of popcorn last night. Maybe it was the movie you watched before bed, but who really knows?
I hadn’t spent much time on Robin McKinley’s website until this week, and she has a great answer to that question. You can read the whole thing here: http://www.robinmckinley.com/faq/faq.php?q_id=5 but essentially she says that having ideas is like picking up pebbles in the dark and then picking up a puppy. You know immediately that the thing in your hands is something else, and something rather more than what you’ve picked up previously. The puppy is a story. Like I said, I love this explanation. It almost expresses how I get my ideas.
The problem is that, for me, it is not nearly as simple as this. It is like fumbling around in the darkness picking up the pebbles of ideas, and then suddenly you grab a pair of furry legs, and a few velvet ears, a wagging tail then the warm, soft body. Eventually, among all the other pebbles I’ve picked up at the same time, I realize that I can put this all together and it becomes a puppy. But it doesn’t start out as a full puppy I pull from the dark. I know I have something different, but it isn’t always clear what parts belong to what until I sit down and try to piece them all together. And some things are only rather mossy rocks. And sometimes I’ve pulled the parts for a puppy and the parts for a squirrel, and have to sort that out as well. And sometimes there are more than two. I’d say it’s like juggling, but that would be adding another metaphor into this already cobbled mix.
The last part of this whole problem is that I never know how much the puppy will grow. I don’t really know what I have until I write it down. Is it a Pug of a short story? Is it a Newfoundland of a novel? Is it a viable, healthy dog or does it have kennel cough that will never be cured? Do I have the skills to care for and feed this dog, or do I need to go and take some writing classes and learn what to feed it before attempting to put it on paper and give it a home?
Writing is such a nebulous thing. That’s probably why people resort to metaphor and cliché to explain it. There has to be something more concrete out there, though. I’ll be searching for it until I find it but my guess is that I never will. In the mean time, I suppose I offer (rather convoluted) metaphor myself.