Note to Readers: Pardon the number of silly metaphors.
“How (or where) do you get your ideas?” is the oddest question I’m frequently asked. My response is usually a smile and a shrug. Sometimes, simply, “my brain.” Perhaps I don’t answer because I find the inquiry condescending; a pat on the head from an older, unartistic person. (Aside: It’s no wonder why children don’t ask this question, since a large portion of their lives are spent in their imaginations.) However, in recent conversations with writing/publishing friends, the question of idea origination floated in the ether.
For clarity sake, in this post, Ideas shall be defined as every thought relating, directly or indirectly, to the actualized creation. Every word put to page, as well as all thoughts surrounding the word, is an Idea. Everything the words build is an Idea, including, but not limited to, sentences, images, metaphors, paragraph and chapter breaks, etcetera. Ideas are acknowledged human consciousness.
Thus, in a single piece, writers continually access Ideas. From the overarching subject, to individual moments, the act of writing is a water wheel, perpetually dipping beneath and drawing up to the surface. The writer provides the water. The water is composed of everything, all things. To be more specific, the writer’s, conscious and unconscious, bodily and mentally, past and present, banal and sublime, life experiences.
The writer’s Ideas aggregate in, what I term, the Well. Drip by drip, day by day, thought by thought, the writer’s Well is stocked. The desire to write comes when the Well overflows. The moment referred to as “struck by inspiration” is the brain connecting Ideas previously unlinked…and EUREKA! The writer discovers one (or more) of the Interests(1) and dash, naked from the bathtub, to write.
In writing, the Well is emptied(2). Once the work is finished, writers need to refill the Well. They should return to experiencing their examined life. A simple continuous process, the filling and refilling of the Well, makes for a sustained Artistic Career(3).
Multi-book deals have become more common and sought by agents. These deals assist in the development of an author’s Commercial Career. Announcing a publishing house’s purchase of two books is more impressive than a single buy. Releasing two or more books in quick succession keeps the author in the public consciousness, increasing the potential for high sales. Further, marketing a second book by an established author, especially after a successful first book, is easier than launching a debut author.
Discussions on the effects of tightened deadlines for authors are plentiful. So it’s unnecessary to regurgitate them. Conclusively, the act of sustained writing is mentally and physically exhausting. Writers require rest and space from their finished work. Maybe even a break from writing altogether. During the hiatus, an author refills the Well. Thus the process continues: fill up, empty out. Time is an indispensable ingredient for a successful Artistic Career. However, time is a luxury. To afford the extravagance of time, an author needs a successful Commercial Career. And to be commercially successful, the author complies with publishers’ abbreviated timelines. So, we arrive, where most discussions on the art business do: the uneasy balance of art and commerce.
(2) A note on my writing process: At this stage, I limit my exposure to anything new, only that which related to my work-in-progress. My apartment becomes my sensory deprivation tank. By doing so, I solve one of my writerly issue: distraction by new, enticing ideas.
(3) I’m splitting the definition of “career” into two parts. The Artistic Career refers to authors’ writerly development and literary acclaim. The Commercial Career refers to the commercial popularity of authors.