Thursday 29 November 2007

I blogged a lot recently about my experience of being edited. Having fought my way through this temporary but necessary obsession, I've decided to move on to another topic. I suspect you're growing bored of reading about my editor's cuts. If you want to hear, more, please let me know and I'll oblige (or find another excuse to delay revealing the extent of my ignominy.)

Now that my MS is all but complete (I daren't say complete yet, after my earlier debacle, before I hear the editor's judgement) and I've not been thinking about it to the exclusion of all else, I find my plot and characters popping into my head at random times.

Ideas seem to appear in my head when it's impossible to write them down. Today, for example, I had several flashes of inspiration ("Sounds great!" you might think) at these times: in the shower, driving my car, walking from one building to another in a cold drizzle, and sitting in a meeting (obviously). (Not so great now.) I also usually have crucial ideas just as I'm going to bed, exhausted by the double life I've been leading (working all day, then writing from 6pm till 1 or 2am).

My question is this: Do some writers have ideas while sitting sensibly in front of paper or screen, a pot of fresh coffee to hand, and no distractions? Is it possible to be sensibly creative? Does creativity require a certain amount of chaos from which to spring, or am I just trying to justify my scatty approach to writing?


Sleepy said...

My best ideas seem to come as I'm laying in bed, falling asleep.
I always think,
'Oh Sleepy! You fecking genius you, that's good; remember that in the morning'.
Do I remember?
Do I buggery!
I remember that I had a 'Brilliant' idea, just not what it was.

All I do is, sporadically, write a blog!
I'd be arse at a book and end up punching the editor.
Mess with my words?
Almost as bad as a horrendous haircut!

The early days of 'Anger Management' in schools weren't that clever!
You may have picked up on that.

Keep going chum.
I'm living a vicarious life.
Imagine the guilt if you ruined it for me!

Leigh Russell said...

Oh, sleepy, you haven't seen my hair... horrendous would be an understatement (I kid you not, sleepy, my blogbuddy)! But dont' worry, I won't let you down (as I told my publisher.) Remember - fiction is my forte. And you can interpret that any way you choose!

Leigh Russell said...

AAAH! don't (sorry - I mmusst check my coments before I 'publish' them.)

Wizbit said...

I've been exactly like you when it comes to ideas for all of my writing life (aged 5 and up really) but recently I've started to read creativity articles and writers block help articles because I've been stressed out with things and haven't been able to write.

One of the pieces of advice was to use spare time rather than free time for ideas. What they meant, as far as I can tell, is time when you're not doing much but can't do whatever you like. For example, my trip to work and home again on the bus has become my ideas time, when I sit and think about nothing but my novel or comic or story, whichever I choose.

It's sort of working. I've written a whole series of scene ideas and some character notes but I've as yet not managed another chapter. This is an experiment for me though because I'm getting more than a bit frustrated, I kinda need something to get me through it this time.

Alis said...

I can relate to all those ideas popping into your head at inopportune moments - why does none of us ever have a notebook handy when we need one? But i can relate to Elizabeth P's comment too - I've taken to going for a walk in the middle of the writing day and this often helps to loosen up ideas around the chapter I'm working on. I'll usually get back to it with a clearer idea of what's happening and why.
As for the other ideas, if I do remember them and work out how they fit into the book, I usually find that at least 9 out of 10 don't belong. They were a bit tangential because I wasn't immersed enough in the world of the book when I had them. A bit like imagining one of your friends in a really out-of-context scenario - the brain just throws these things up as if to say 'Way-hay wouldn't that be funny?'
Overall, I'd say the best and most enduring ideas come when I'm actually in the fictional world and seeing things with my characters' eyes - then ideas seem to be theirs as much as mine and that seems to fit into the flow of the book better.
Final thought - how can you fit so much work in - you must be knackered the whole time!!!?

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

Hi Leigh,

Hope that you can get 'that' technical side of blogging sorted out. I've not yet managed to work out how to make my post titles come up on the front page of my blog. I've resorted to just linking them all on the left hand side of the page.

Well then, about having ideas in strange places. I got my husband a voice recorder. I know that this may not be ideal in a meeting for example, but if you had one with you at all times, you could record something while you were driving or going for a walk.

Maybe one of these might be useful to you?

My 'g' is still playing up, so please excuse any missing ones.


Leigh Russell said...

Thanks, ELIZABETH, ALIS & ANNE - no time to reply so will come back later but I can't resist an attempt at a reply without the use of one 'g'. It's quite hard! I've abandonned my endeavour to set up the author permission process on my blo... Bother!

eric1313 said...

It's terrible what the red pen of an editor can sometimes do to our work.

I'll read more soon, but I have to get going this morning. Just wanted to return the visit. You have quite a bit of insight I'd like to explore

Thanks for the stop.

Bill Clark said...

Actually, I've found that my subconscious seems to work best on producing good ideas when I'm engaged in some form of low-level motor activity (motoring itself falls into this category).

So I've found that a small tape recorder can be helpful, as Anne has already suggested. It also helps with the falling-asleep- or middle-of-the-night-brainstorms. As to being in a meeting, what can be more natural than taking notes? (You don't have to let people know that it's your own brilliant thoughts, not theirs, that you're writing down!) ;-)

Diana Peterfreund did a blog about this a few months ago - she actually recommended taking a shower as a way to get the ideas (as well as the water) flowing.

I close with the immortal words of Lord Baden-Powell: "Be prepared!"

Leigh Russell said...

My imagination works best when I'm stuck in traffic and when I'm in the shower. Is it something to do with the enclosed physical space? Do you think a car wash would release an inner (so far hidden) creative genius...

Mima said...

I can't believe that you are managing to keep to a schedule like that and not collapse, make sure that you take some time out, you don't want to end up catching something and keeling over.

Sleepy said...

Car wash is good!
You could also research feelings of suffocation or a a backseat quickie!

Charles Gramlich said...

I too find that a lot of good ideas occur to me at inopportune times, especially when I have work piled up. I think in part it is my subconscious trying to escape from the crush of work.

To deal with this, I always take a notepad and pen to any meeting I go to, and when in the car I carry a small tape recorder for ideas. Still I miss things, but this helps.

Bill Clark said...

Do you think a car wash would release an inner (so far hidden) creative genius...

I think the answer depends on whether you keep the windows open or closed... :-)

Kara Dunn said...

What is it about being in the car that starts those inner voices chatting? As I live in the middle of nowhere, I often find myself on the highway traveling for hours. I plotted out a whole novella that way. Something about the solitude. (No traffic... didn't I mention, the middle of NOWHERE!) LOL!

Leigh Russell said...

Hi guys - my daughter's coming round so might have to stop and finish later...

Hi ELIZABETH - re. Writer's Block:
You can't have writer's block, you just can't. So if I am stuck, I just write something. Then you can at least do something with it. I didn't write that, but I've lived by it so far...
Getting ideas on the bus sounds like a great idea. You're there, nowhere to go, and life is happening all around you. I found a character on a bus. I haven't used her yet, but it was quite an inspiring place. I like coffee shops too. Anywhere I can sit, anonymously, just observing and absorbing.

ANNE - Hi there, blogbuddy. Yes, I follow my characters too. But I have to watch them. They lead me into strange places sometimes... Stephen King wrote somewhere that writing is like an archaological dig. You chip away to find the story that's there. I find that's absolutely true. Stories write themselves, don't they? But, like the characters, I find I have to work to stay in control. Otherwise it all runs away with me. (Hence my recent editor's cuts!!)

Thank you for visiting, ERIC1313. I hope you come back soon. My editor used pencil! Red pen is like school!!! I don't think I could have taken that. Pencil is much kinder. (Editors take note?)

MIMA, lovely to hear from you. About a year ago, someone in my family who was the same age as me sadly died. It kind of galvanised me, a reminder that life is short. I do attempt too much, but you'll understand why.
At my back I always hear/ Time's winged chariot hurrying near and there's so MUCH I want to do! You know exactly what I mean. But I will heed your advice. It's wise. Thank you.

SLEEPY, my friend, what can I say? Naughty!

CHARLES, always an interesting comment. Thank you. escape the crush of work - how right you are! Fiction is definitely an escape from life for me. I always have a notepad and pencil on me. Still not sure I could work with a tape recorder, but I'm beginning to think maybe I should try that. But I think I think in writing...

Hi BILL - what can I say?

Thank you all so much for your comments. I love blogging. Fiction is my escape from life, and blogging is my escape from 'writing' where I have to be careful not to ramble on haphazardly...

Sleepy said...

Apologies if I lowered the tone.

It's a gift!

Chris Eldin said...

In addition to what everyone else has said, I find that my creativity increases mid-cycle. I know that sounds crazy, but I am convinced it's related to hormones. I've stopped trying to analyze it and I just (ahem) go with the flow.

This is a very interesting topic. Someone on the SCBWI (Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) boards a while back was doing research into this.

Leigh Russell said...

Hey SLEEPY - lower away, blogbuddy. You're very welcome.

CHURCH LADY - go with the flow!! Very amusing.

The Anti-Wife said...

All my best ideas come when it's impossible to write them down - especially out walking the dog. Then, because I'm so old I forget them by the time I'm ready to write. However, there seems to be an endless supply of good ideas out there so I just plug ahead.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Xina54 said...

Hi Leigh
You asked about the drawings on my blog - you should be able to see them being drawn if you go to
let me know if it doesn't work

Leigh Russell said...

Hi ANTI-WIFE and thank you for visiting. I have that problem too, forgetting things. I'm forever jotting down reminders. It's really annoying when I can't read my hurried scribbles! But I agree - there are so many ideas 'out there' that some are bound to penetrate my thick skull. My publisher told me to read avidly for ideas, but so far I've found my inspiration just pops into my head from observing life itself. I have a range of characters in my writing but whatever I invent comes nowhere near to the rich variety of real people out there. I only have to sit in a coffee shop for half an hour and I'm amazed by a glimpse at humanity.

Leigh Russell said...

XINA54 Thank you again. I looked up your website and was amazed! I've gone into more detail on your blog so won't repeat myself but thank you again. Also, thank you very much for putting my blog as a link on yours.

BernardL said...

I confess to having ideas pop into my head while I'm writing. :)

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

Leigh, my best inspirations come when I'm cooking (so I keep a book in the kitchen on top of the cupboard) I've already written a whole series of a sitcom in that book, just waiting to be put together now.

When I'm driving with my husband at the wheel, (so I keep a notebook in my hand bag)

And lastly when I'm people watching. I confess I love to watch and listen to people chat, especially when they're in a group like at the school while waiting to pick up their kids.

My writing tutors all said to read, read, read for ideas, but like you, this doesn't work for me. Real life has more ideas and more people!

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

Oh, and if you're ever in Bristol, let's meet up for coffee.

Eryl Shields said...

Hello, thanks for visiting my blog and for your advice. You're right a variety of critics does confuse. I often come out of workshops in a terrible pickle.

Like you I get ideas in all sorts of unaccommodating places, especially when I'm not quite asleep but not awake enough to write them down. Because I'm doing an M.Litt I have to write several pieces a week to order, so am beginning to find I can summon up ideas when I absolutely have to, usually the day before the deadline. I find the best thing to do to cement and idea is to write anything that comes in to my head about it, then go and bake a cake or something. After the cake is ready the story has usually incubated enough to get it down. Once I've got the first draft I read Chekhov and then I can edit and redraft. I've tried all sorts of other processes and so far this works best.

Another thing I'm trying to do is build up a stash of characters. So, two or three times a week I sit in a cafe and describe someone in my line of sight as objectively as possible. This also involves cake. Sometimes I find a story develops from this activity which is a bonus.

I've really enjoyed reading all your posts and have made you my first link on my M.Litt site. Hope that's ok.

Bill Clark said...

Hi BILL - what can I say?

Hi, Leigh - don't tell me you're at a loss for words?! You, of all people? :-)

virtual nexus said...

Leigh -

Harry Alder's CQ -
Boost your creative intelligence -
is worth a quick flick through in relation to your post.

Leigh Russell said...

BERNARDL - what a cool confession that is! Those ideas have got to be the best!

ANNE - coffee sounds great but I've never been to Bristol. If I do, I'll certainly let you know.

ERYL - cake and Chekhov. Wow. When I started writing I was quite pedantic about my equipment. I'd only use a certain type of pencil, on certain paper. I wouldn't leave the house without at least one 'right' pencil. I've become more relaxed about it as I've gained in confidence. Now I've started typing without writing first, and I can write on any sort of paper! I'm trying, in principle, not to get too dependent on anything extraneous. I even scribble in pen if I have to now, but I feel more comfortable in pencil or on the keyboard. Pen is too permanent.

BILL - it has been known, on rare occasions... When I remember one, I'll let you know... hmmm still thinking...

JULIE - Sorry, but I think I'm going to avoid books on 'how to find inspiration'... It seems to me to miss the point so entirely. I don't want to have to dredge around for inspiration. When the ideas stop, I'll stop writing. As F Scott Fitzgerald put it: "You don't write because you want to say something; you write because you've got something to say." If or when my 'creative intelligence' ever needs any "boost" I'll stop writing and do something else.

Sleepy said...

What one word do you consider you overuse when writing?

Leigh Russell said...

Hi SLEEPY. On my blog my most overused word has got to be 'I'... In my writing, I don't know. I've just been going through my work and no particular word stood out. I use Inspector quite often, and killer - which gives you a clue as to what I write about! The phrase: under other circumstances came up a few times, so I removed a couple of them. Apart from that, I'm not sure I overuse any particular word, but am quite ready to be corrected by more observant readers. Why the question, Sleepy? Have you been bugged by some word I keep using on my blog? Or am I being paranoid??

Sleepy said...

Nope, haven't noticed anything or am bugged!

Was thinking more about myself really.
Just a thought.

Leigh Russell said...

A useful thought. I'll watch out for overused words, I'm sure I have a few lurking around. Thanks for sharing that, Sleepy. (I'm not sure your name does you justice. You seem pretty alert to me.)

Sleepy said...

Sometimes I do a good impression of alert.

Don't be fooled!

Leigh Russell said...

I just read this on another blog (about Philip Pullman):

"When writing, the author is a tyrant and the process is despotic. Once the book becomes published, it becomes a democracy of the readers."

Does the same apply to blogs, do you think? If so, as the writer of your blog, you may decide you are sleepy, but as your reader, I might choose to think of you as alert. And I think I will. A kind of sleepy alertness, as a compromise, perhaps.

Sleepy said...

As I am tucking into some vodka, with some fervour I must admit, Sleepy Alertness makes peculiar sense!

Even if I don't.

Map Finder said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog. If you liked the seven-thirty there, then I think you'll like the content of my other blog at

Looking through your blog, I like your comprehensiveness and pithyness, as well as your detail!

Sarah Laurence said...

Like you, Leigh, I don't know when inspiration will hit. I never leave home without a small notebook. Notecards by the bed work too. Try bath crayons in the shower?

Most of my ideas flow while I'm working at my computer without distraction. I need to listen to the characters talk to me on the page and follow them on their journeys.

Thanks for your comments on my Philip Pullman and Wizard Earl blogs - I responded to your question on the second one there. Maybe we should stop thanking and just comment?

Leigh Russell said...

Hi SARAH - stop saying 'thank you'? Next you'll be asking us English to stop saying 'sorry' at every possible (and impossible) opportunity... What next? Stop talking about the weather? You do realise you're blogging with someone who thanked her printer for working for long enough to print out the MS of a book...

But seriously, I do take your point and will try to cut to the chase more directly.

I do like your notion of the Renaissance woman, but I'm not sure that's possible any longer in the West. I like to think that women in some societies who are currently 'invisible' - physically as well as politically - will have their own Renaissance soon.

Leigh Russell said...

SLEEPY - you're a living paradox.

J.WILSON - comprehensiveness and pithyness? You flatter me! (But please don't feel you have to stop.) Thank you for your kind comments.

Sleepy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sleepy said...

I'm a living Paramol after that Vodka..

Mea Culpa

fizzycat said...

Forgive me I could be quoting from the wrong source but I think Johnson said 'writing is easy , you just sit at a desk and open a vein'. Something like that.
Hopefully there may be a new job offer for me in the new year, so then the cotton wool will finally put to rest, hoorah! appreciate your comments and thoughts.
Ideas, well I only write the blog but buses tend to be my idea place, or even shops, just interacting with people seeing how they live seems to start ideas flowing.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

All my best ideas come while I am sleepng so I have taken to leaving a note pad and pen next to my bed. The other day I had an inspiration and found that all my pens were missing. Stomping around the house at 4 in the morning looking for a pen sure puts you in a bad mood! ;o)

Lily Moon said...

Hi again Leigh, I liked reading about your thoughts on ideas. I rarely have them sitting in front of a fresh piece of paper, a pencil in hand, or in front of a blank screen. It used to be in history lessons at school, then in lectures, now it seems to be whilst driving up and down the M5, or looking out the windown on the bus. The shower too is a good place. I always have notebooks everyhwere, in my bag and by the side of the bed. Late at night, in that space just before falling asleep seems to be a time as well for thoughts to come.

Lily Moon said...

PS Usually have story thoughts when I'm meant to be having serious thoughts about work!

The Wisdom of Wislon said...

I don't know about writing but I can only imagine it may be creating a painting, you need a gush of inspiration and energy to get whatever it is out of you??? mmm this sounds trite!

Leigh Russell said...

FIZZY - " a vein" I love that! I'll keep my fingers crossed for your new job (but will miss your observations - I hope you'll still encounter lots of people in your new position.) On the bus seems to be a popular source of inspiration.

ELLO - I once dreamt an idea for a story, which I haven't used yet. It was a bit complicated, but very cool. Other than that, I only once dreamt about an idea, which I'd already used. I rarely remember my dreams.

LILY - The bus, driving and the shower crop up repeatedly as excellent places to find ideas. I wondered about a car wash?

WISDOM - I think poetry is probably a parallel creative process to painting? But prose fiction differs from music and visual art in that it has to make some sort of 'sense' on an intellectual level. It can't make a direct appeal to emotion/feeling/subconscious - which is why its effect is (generally) far less powerful than that of music and painting.
No - not 'trite' at all. These things are so difficult to put into words. How do you talk/write about things that transcend language? Language is only a means of communicating what is in our heads.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi FIZZY - I've found this:
"There's nothing to writing. all you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." written by someone called Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith.

I don't think it works so well with the typewriter - an earlier writer might have implied blood for ink?

I love Johnson: "Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out." It sounds ironic, but is actually excellent advice! Bashevis Singer put it like this: "The wastebasket is the writer's best friend.

(My editor would be pleased to see me endorsing these comments!!!... but that's another 'story'...)

Michele said...

Hi there Leigh,

Thought I'd let you know I gave you a little link love in today's post :-)


Lane Mathias said...

gosh what a lot of comments here!

Sensible and creative do seem a bit juxtaposed don't they.
Personally I'm a big fan of the 'creative nap' (as suggested by Heather Sellers in Page After Page). Doesn't necessarily have to be a sleep as such, just a quiet few minutes and a drift. Sadly, haven't had much time for these recently:-(

Bill Clark said...

lane is right - there are a lot of comments here.

Do you think it's time for a new post? Erica gave me a kick in the pants today, so I dusted off my fingers and got to work. Result, such as it is, over on Greenwich Gossip.

Middle Ditch said...

Writing is so strange, isn't it Leigh. For ages I wanted a new character but just could not see him. In the end (after about five weeks) I got rid of him and wrote episode nineteen within five hours.

Leigh Russell said...

MICHELE - thank you for the little love link. I really like that! :) to you too.

LANE - Any kind of nap will do for me. Any time. Except bedtime. That's when I usually have my best ideas!

BILL - You call that gossip? You men, you have no idea! But it's always a pleasure to read your blog, despite the misnomer.

MIDDLE DITCH - Do you think all the time you were stuck on that character, episode 19 was working itself out below the conscious surface activity in your brain?

Pauline Rowson said...

Hi, Leigh. Just got round to catching up with your blog ( and mine). Ideas come to me at all sorts of times, as you know, like my taxi man and the suitcase, but when I get stuck, or am thinking through a tricky bit I sit on the sofa in my office and knit! knitting is brilliant, because it not only allows my mind to carry on working but I end up with a cardigan or some leg warmers. I am lucky that now I can do this, but when I was running my own business all week and only able to write at weekends it wasn't possible. A dictaphone in the car though was great especially in traffic jams when travelling from meeting to meeting because I could merrily talk through my ideas and record them.

Anonymous said...

my ideas usually pop into my head while i'm busy doing other things. it's a weird balance though- when i get too busy i have no ideas. :(