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Hello Good Idea, it’s nice to meet you…

May 9, 2013

What makes a good idea? What is ‘inspiration’? How is it that some writers and artists just seem to be chock-full of amazing ideas, and you read a book or watch a film and think “I’d never have thought of that”? Some people just seem to have the knack of finding the right idea, which is original or funny or daring or just so hugely clever and brilliant, you wonder how their brain has space to function to tie their shoelaces.

Some people leak inspiration and originality from every pore, who never disappoint in their work, and whose shopping lists you would happily purchase, such is your faith in their command of the English language. There are a certain amount of authors whose books I will purchase in wrist-crushing hardback, whose sequels and spin-offs and trade editions I will feverishly devour, and who, if they are prolific enough, will have whole bookshelves dedicated to their treasured prose. Kate Atkinson is one; Margaret Atwood another; Louis de Bernieres not only has his own shelf but a promise of marriage should he ever require it. And Audrey Niffenegger, the writer who first appeared in my life with ‘The Time Traveller’s wife’ and the subsequent ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ has now established herself as one of my must-read authors, with the result that tonight I found myself sitting in a draughty church, sipping a warm glass of white wine, with two new hardback books weighing me down in anticipation of an hour in her company.

I didn’t really know that much about her before she came to the pulpit, and would – and probably did – have walked right past her on the street. A vivacious redhead, she is author, artist and creative explosion, who has given me a much-needed impetus to get my ass back into writing mode. With a ballet, two collections of short stories, two novels and a screenplay on the go, she lays waste to my pitiful exclamations of not enough time, and demonstrates that you can, if you work hard enough for it, spend your whole life playing with your imagination and letting the creative juices flow.

When asked, as is inevitable at this type of event, the dreaded question “Where do you get your ideas from?” her answer was refreshingly simple. She maintains that everyone gets ideas all the time – the artistic skill lies in recognising it and knowing what to do with it. And perhaps, not knowing what to do with it, but understanding that it speaks to you in a way that the same idea wouldn’t to another person, and just ‘going with it’. And being comfortable with the fact that some ideas will just never come, because the type of person you are just doesn’t allow for it.

I’m paraphrasing here, and probably doing her eloquence and indeed elegance a grave disservice, but the gist of what she was saying is that you spend your whole life being molded into a particular person, and as that person you think a certain way and get certain ideas – and through the type of person you are you can take one of those myriad ideas and turn it into something. And equally, you can discard just as many, not even recognize them as ideas, and potentially throw away what, to another person, may have been the seed of an amazing novel or brilliant scientific discovery – you were just the wrong person for that idea.

And so it got me to thinking about all the ideas I have had in the past few years – for short stories, for novels, for films – and how many I’ve dismissed as ‘interesting but not quite right’. I read a quote the other day that said “A creative person’s mind is like a browser with 2,456 tabs open – all at once, all the time”, and it resonated with me because I do always have about 50 ideas going through my head at any given moment, not to mention the ones that occur to me in dreams, or more annoyingly, when just on the verge of sleep, and whose dazzling brilliance is either forgotten or dulled by the early morning light. The thought that, of all these ideas, my mind needs to recognise the ones with potential and ‘go with them’ is quite daunting – my browser simply doesn’t have the disk space.

I got home from the book talk this evening, found The Apprentice on TV, and it was like someone had cleared the cache of my memory an hour later – Audrey’s soft, eloquent lilt had been replaced by a balding cockney in a Boardroom, and inspiring thoughts of cracking on with my screenplay had been overtaken by washing up from the takeaway curry, debate as to how ‘news’ worthy it is that a 71 year old has retired (seriously – no one saw that coming?) and pleasure that I’ve got a vaguely fighting chance of winning the work sweepstake on the Apprentice winner, given that I didn’t pick Alex, Jason or Uzma, all of whom are complete imbeciles.

My browser had gone distinctly lowbrow, my cookie settings recognising only trivia and trash, and those 2,456 open tabs now had pop-up messages urging me to buy more fairy liquid and to feed the cat. How do you keep the good ideas live and active, and learn to recognise them as more important than the dead ends, the time-wasters and the not-for-me’s? And how do you manage to do anything creative when it’s 10.45 and there are chores to do before bedtime?

It’s all very well for flame-haired bestselling authors to have a ballet on at Covent Garden and to be ‘playing’ with a screenplay – what about those of us with full time pets, jobs to mow and blogs to feed? I guess the only answer is to keep the computer cranked up and the ideas flowing, and to hope that the creative filter picks out those ideas that will turn to gems through enough hard work. And to like the idea that, of those that fall through, perhaps some will be picked up by someone else.

From → Blog, Script

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