Writers are often asked where they get their story ideas. We’ve talked about that here before. We’re observant and we like using our imaginations.
In day-to-day conversations, I’m likely to say one thing or another that results in somebody asking, “How can you think of something like that?”
What I want to say is “How can you not think of it?” The “it” always seems so obvious whether it’s humorous, ironic, sarcastic, or a lyrical or unique play on words. I don’t want to downplay one’s imagination, but when it comes to words, thinking of stuff is part of the biz.
Police, firemen, doctors, mechanics, lawyers, and others think of a lot of things the rest of us don’t because they know their business and are rather expected to see and understand things about it that would never occur to the rest of us. If a doctor tells us we have a peanut allergy, for example, we don’t blurt out, “How in the hell did you think of that?” When s/he thinks of that, we’re getting what we hoped to get when we went to the clinic: answers we didn’t know or only suspected.
A writer’s daily conversations, however, are usually not held in his/her office where, perhaps, somebody might come, asking for help writing a business letter, a speech, or a college admissions essay. If they had done that, they would have expected some writing help and probably wouldn’t have acted surprised to get it.
But out in public is where people are surprised when we say what we say because they’re not used to seeing a writer out in the wild. I find such reactions amusing because I’m just talking like I talk. It’s not as though I’m doing something overt like speaking in Limericks or Faulkner-length sentences.
Many of the writers I know also say they get a lot of surprised reactions from others during normal conversations. At least, they seem normal to the writer until the other person bursts out laughing and says, “How do you think of stuff like that?”
Yes, it’s often amusing, but it’s also tiring because their reactions to what we say really can derail a great conversation. Perhaps playing nicely with others means we should stop being ourselves.
Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil focuses on wonder, and though she certainly didn’t ask me to sign off on that focus, I approve because I think wonder is a human creature’s most potent sense.
In an interview in the current “Poets & Writers” magazine, she says, “Wonder for me is where you get surprised by your own curiosity when confronted with something unfamiliar or unexpected and that sense of curiosity turns into a kind of joy and excitement.”
Wonder is the default natural state of children when their caretakers don’t intrude with brainwashing that suggests otherwise. When I was a child, I experienced wonder in every raindrop, every cloud, and every tree. My experiences of those things now are somewhat muted because the pragmatic slings and arrows of the world take their toll.
When I read and write, I recapture the wonder of childhood because I’m existing in another world unsullied by politicians, worker drones, advertising slogans, and bad parents. I once wrote a series of nature-related articles for a magazine series called “World of Wonder.” My goal was to show readers why I felt a powerful sense of wonder at the locations I chose.
And yet, once lost, it’s rather difficult to get our virginity back because, when it comes to wonder, most people have forgotten about it or don’t believe it ever existed. Yet, it’s possible–I believe–for readers to wake up to wonder when authors infuse it in their works–the wonder comes back as people read, a phantom or shadow of its former self, perhaps, but (let us say) it’s a positive covert influence.
I suspect wonder makes the world go around if we admit it.
Every day, more and more people realize that they fall in the category of people with empathy (compassion), highly sensitive to energy and emotions of the environment.
Empathetic person is a person who has the ability to grasp the mental and emotional states of others. These people have a high social intelligence and are very good at helping others to solve their problems.
This post is a nice, quick-read overview for those who (variously) are empaths, psychics, or generally highly intuitive. This blog, in general, does a good job of staying away from the questionable “new age” claims and posts material that I find helpful–or at least very interesting.
The song has a bright, expansive melody and has become famous for its surrealistic imagery, influenced by artists as diverse as French poet Arthur Rimbaud and Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini. The lyrics call on the title character to play a song and the narrator will follow. Interpretations of the lyrics have included a paean to drugs such as LSD, a call to the singer’s muse, a reflection of the audience’s demands on the singer, and religious interpretations. – Wikipedia
Bob Dylan released “Mr. Tambourine Man” in March 1965 in his “Bring It All Back Home” album when I was at the last place I wanted to be (college), tied down, I thought, by an ancient canon of learning that was taught and graded in an ancient style of “education” that did not meet my needs nor my temperament. What would have met my needs would have been saying “to tell with all this” and then telling Mr. Tambourine man “I’ll come following you.”
Five years later, Gordon Lightfoot released a song with a similar intent, “Minstrel of the Dawn” on his “If You Could Read My Mind” album when I was–once again–in the last place I wanted to be (the navy) freshly returned from Vietnam and a war I did not support then serving (ironically) on the staff at the navy’s boot camp where I helped prepare others to go to the place I just left. I soon became a conscientious objector and left the navy having become a convert to the minstrelsy of the “Minstrel of the Dawn” in the jingle jangle of a new morning.
Because of my belief in dreams, I am nothing if not impractical, and heavily influenced–actually under the spell–of these two songs for a lifetime, and while I cannot duplicate the quality of the songs, much less an old-time Troubador, I have always infused their spirit and spell in my work. That is to say, I lead my characters astray and want to hypnotize readers into following them–as Lightfoot says–“While the old guitar rings.”
Some have said Mr. Tambourine man is about losing oneself to drugs, a notion that Dylan denies. Like most writers, I’m dealing something more dangerous than drugs: words and stories spun into haunting and irresistible dreams. If the government ever figures out the truth about stories, they’ll either ban them or heavily tax them.
If you read fiction, you know that stories are written to make you “forget about today until tomorrow” while trying to “get into things more happy than blue.” There are side effects to such stories that are more dangerous than those attached to Fentanyl and Oxycontin: addiction to freedom and dreams. I’ve been prescribed Oxycontin at least three times and never got addicted because stories were always a much great temptation.
Money-wise, the street value of stories is less than the street value of Fentanyl and Oxycontin. However, I should mention that there’s no cure for stories. It won’t matter because, in your jingle-jangle mornings, you’ll be too far out in space to want one.
While practicing healing and intuition exercises, beginners are told to begin with their imagination and that in time, their imagination will slide away and they’ll be seeing reality. (See Part One.)
Here’s a personal example that surprised me at the time, first that it happened at all, second that it was vivid and intense.
In a discussion group composed of people who at taken one or two Silva Method courses, we often talked about visualizing healing energy flowing from ourselves to other people. Usually, these were people we knew were sick, and the energy was sent after we relaxed our minds and closed our eyes and “saw” the energy as a beam of pure white light flowing toward (and enveloping) the person.
Some suggested we could send energy to people we saw on the street or on a bus or in a room full of people. We’d simply imagine it happening without closing our eyes or using any self-hypnotic countdown of numbers to relax our minds.
Headlights and Tail Lights
I tried this out on a dark country road that had a relatively small amount of traffic. My plan was to send energy to the people inside the cars as represented by pairs of headlights and tail lights ahead of me, on side roads at intersections, or in my rear view mirrors.
When only a car or two was visible, I could “say” in my mind, “Healing energy is flowing into your car for all of you.” When traffic grew heavier, that changed to quickly saying “Energy to you” for each pair of lights.
Even though I wasn’t far from home, the night was very dark, so I couldn’t possibly recognize any of the cars or the people in them.
After doing this for ten or fifteen minutes, I began to “know” how many people were in the cars, whether or not any of them were really sick or depressed or happy or having an argument, and sometimes whether they suddenly felt a “jolt of health” or a “jolt of happiness.” Their thoughts and conversations were becoming strongly apparent.
Soon, I was in tears because the impressions were so strong, the white light of the energy appeared before my eyes like flashes of lightning, and for some of the cars there came a validation that I was sensing actual moments and/or providing (through the energy) a bit of help.
I was an emotional wreck by the time I reached my destination (my house) and sat in the dark driveway for a long time trying to process what had just happened. I have never tried to replicate this experience because the impressions and flashes of lights were so vivid, they were beginning to dangerously impact my driving. I worried that I might close my eyes without realizing it and end up wrecking my Jeep.
So What Did It Mean?
First, it demonstrated that what begins as imagination can become more than that. It also showed me that the shift from imagination to intuition is most likely to happen when one isn’t trying to force it to happen. I thought I was pretending to send energy. Maybe it began that way, but it became an overwhelming validation that the process works.
Second, it gave me the confidence–usually in an easy chair with my eyes closed–to send energy or “see” situations while my mind was in a relaxed (alpha waves) state. The experience showed me what it felt like when intuition has taken over. So, I was going to a place I knew. People using biofeedback to lower their blood pressure while hooked up to a flashing light that indicates their progress, discover (when the light slows down) what it feels like when the biofeedback works. This allows them to do it without the flashing light wired to their fingertips. If you practice intuition and/or various energy healing programs, including Reiki, “what it feels like” is a good guide to how you’re doing, so to speak.
As a writer, artist, musician, or any other creative person who loves to let their imagination run free, I think we all discover in time that whether we’re writing a book or playing mind games, sometimes we learn things we didn’t expect to discover.
Even now, I “know” (even though I’m not thinking about that old exercise) what kinds of people are in the cars represented by headlights and tail lights on the roads at night. Yes, I avoid those who seem malevolent or feel a kinship with those who are happy or depressed. One never knows why kinds of faculties an exercise will unlock.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism novels where the magic and the realism are real.
Writers question their creativity. They think it ought to be magic, something that travels down and strikes them out of the ether, when in actuality, creativity isn’t so esoteric. While we think it just happens, in reality, it is the culmination of our experiences, our education, and our willingness to let loose of the manacles of rules.
An excellent post from author Hope Clark along with a very perceptive opening quote from Steve Jobs that you’ll have to click on the link above to see.
Hope believes we are more creative when we free ourselves from rules and other people’s logic and allow ourselves to see connections between things that weren’t obvious before. A lot of great fiction, great inventions, and innovations in many fields come from walking our own paths.
In fact, if there’s a path already there, avoid it, for it won’t take you to an undiscovered place.
There’s a fair amount of discussion on the Internet about the difference between imagination and intuition. In a sense, imagination is active, sometimes day dreaming play and sometimes the mind working to figure out what something is like or might be like whether it’s a novel, a prospective new job, a relationship, or a thousand other “what if” kinds of questions.
Intuition is passive, listening to what’s variously described as one’s inner self in contact with events or people we cannot–at that moment–see or hear or otherwise logically know about.
Participants in mental improvement courses, such as The Silva Method and others that lean toward the development of intuition, often begin exercises by being asked to imagine something. The intent of this is to focus and connect the relaxed mind on, say, a person or a place, and then allow one’s attention to to take over and begin providing impressions, visual or otherwise, about what is really happening (outside the scope of what we could possibly have known already).
Beginning with one’s imagination is easy because most of us can imagine just about anything. There’s no pressure in that. Since there isn’t any pressure, the mind is now free to widen that imagination into “seeing” what we previously didn’t know about.
When your imagination “switches” over to intuition, you will–as people often say–experience stronger feelings about the images, along with an inner knowing that they are true. When you are practicing, try to get feedback.
For example, have your spouse or your friend tell you (when you’re in a relaxed state) the name and location of a person you don’t know and have never heard about. Imagine that you see that person in your mind’s eye, and then just start talking about what you’re “seeing.” While you’re doing this, your spouse or friend might blurt out “OMG” and other surprised comments when you get something right. Or, they might wait until you finish “your reading” and then say where you were accurate.
The more you do this, the better you will get at it because you will begin to know what the intuited information feels like.
If you have nobody to practice with, you can pick out a town or other location that you’ve never visited, never seen on the news or the Internet, and never heard about. Just pick the name of a town off a list of the towns in one state or another. Then imagine you are there and see what you see. After doing this, Google the town and find some pictures and see how many of the parks, streets, and building match your impressions.
I have always found imagination to be a perfect doorway into intuition, though over time the need for lengthy imagination becomes less unnecessary. Some people are born with “psychic abilities” and know things without having to walk through that “doorway.” For the rest of us, imagination is a wonderful threshold into the innate abilities of our minds that we are working to develop.
“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” – e. e. cummings
When I was in the first or second grade and learned that the earth revolves, I wondered why the ground did not move beneath my feet when I jumped. How perplexing; I come down just where I started, I thought.
My dad explained that the atmosphere moves with the earth and, in fact, if it didn’t, there would be a substantial windstorm blowing us down around the clock.
For years, I viewed the sky as something far way, especially on clear nights when the stars—according to my observations—moved on flight paths much more distant that clouds, airplanes, or the helium balloons that escaped our grasp at the county fair.
I supposed at an early age that an ant’s view of the sky includes everything from my toes up. My feet are shadows and my hands are clouds and my head is a far planet. I believed they were misinformed and/or had poor eyesight because the sky was miles away.
Early on a Saturday morning when I was in high school, I went to Alligator Bay on the Gulf Coast south of Tallahassee, Florida, with Tommy and Jonathan for a boat ride over to Dog Island. Jonathan’s family had a speed boat anchored just off the beach near his family’s summer cottage. The faraway sky was blue and cloudless, and the water was tranquil.
After a day of swimming, snorkeling and sand-dune exploring, we headed back just as a storm began developing farther to the west. The sky grew very dark before we reached the bay sheltered by Alligator Point. The high chop of the waves slowed our progress, so the afternoon was winding down before we set the anchor and waded ashore. We were quite relieved we hadn’t swamped the boat, something we hadn’t done for a year or two.
As we stood watching the storm pass by outside the bay, the setting sun appeared low on the western horizon with one of the most spectacular golden sunsets I have ever seen. The beach, the boat, and the surf were bright orange and glowing with light. Meanwhile, the lightning from the passing storm to the south of us, was also bright orange, and it hissed as it snaked across the sky over our heads and shook the world with its hollow thunder.
We stood without saying a word, and to this day, I think those moments still represent one of the most mystical experiences I have ever had. On that golden beach just out of the storm’s reach, everything was possible and yes and hopeful and connected. “The sky is everywhere, it begins at your feet,” wrote Jandy Nelson in her young adult novel. Yes it is, and on that afternoon, it was clear to me that I stood within the sky and not below it.
This post originally appeared on my Magic Moments weblog. As I get ready to shut down that blog, I thought I’d run a few of my favorite posts from the archive. Looking back on that day on the beach made it easier for me to understand a quote from “Seth” in the books by Jane Roberts: “There is no place where consciousness stops and the environment begins, or vice versa.”
In How to be doomed as a writer, I mentioned that author Stephen King prefers to look at story possibilities as situations rather than plots.
Over time, a writer becomes attracted to certain kinds of settings and the kinds of situations that might occur there. I’m attracted to natural wonders, especially mountains, as well as old buildings. My novels The Sun Singer and The Seeker both arise from a natural wonders setting, Glacier National Park. When I contemplated writing about the park, my first thoughts were about the kinds of things (situations) that might happen there. My Kindle short story “Moonlight and Ghosts” came to mind when I looked at an abandoned building near the house where I grew up.
Suppose you’re in a writing class and the instructor shows you the following picture obtained from the Florida Division of Historical Resources. All you’re told is that it’s an old and restored opera house in a small north Florida town.
Perhaps the instructor has influenced your brainstorming about this picture by showing you the building on a sunny afternoon with cars along the street. If s/he had shown you a photograph of the same structure as it sat on a moonlit night with the trees missing leaves during December, you’d come up with a different set of situations.
If you’re a fan of TV police shows, perhaps this looks like a place where a crime is committed.
If you’re drawn to opera and/or to theater, maybe you’ll think of stars, set designers, directors, little theater groups, professional “theater people” or amateurs coming together to put on a play that somebody hopes will fail.
Maybe there’s a secret about the building, some old legend or a will uncovered in a dusty attic that describes how, when the building was constructed, several hundred bars of gold were hidden beneath the box seats.
Okay, I’ve withheld some information, so with a few more facts, are your prospective story situations the same or do you change them?
The Opera House, which consists of a large second-floor theater and first floor shops, was built in 1880.
Traveling productions, including vaudeville groups, put on shows at this theater for a number of years. But then, when the railroads re-routed their lines and there was no easy way for out-of-town visitors to get to town, the theater fell into disuse.
Ghost hunters claim the owner died of a broken heart and still haunts the now-restored building. Purportedly, the former owner has been “seen” by the ghost hunters and a glowing orb of light.
The building is now used as a venue for weddings, local-area stage productions, and other functions where a seating capacity of 600 is desired.
If your instructor asked you to write a short story about this building, would you see it as just a building where anything might happen, a setting for a theater-oriented tale filled with clashing egos and temperamental stars, or would you try to link the local legends and the history of the building into your story? The only catch is, the instructor will expect you to convey–one way or another–a sense of the building. So, it can’t be a generic structure.
Well, unless you know the building already and/or are a historic preservation specialist, you’rre at a disadvantage when you try to describe it. If I were the instructor, I’d have several information sheets prepared as handouts.
Those who wanted to use the building as a place setting would get a general description of the interior and some architectural information about the architectural style of the building, it’s size, etc.
Those who wanted to use the location for a theater-oriented story, would receive information about the stage, the seating, the lighting, and the dressing rooms.
Those who didn’t know yet what was going to happen but wanted real background, would be told about the building’s history and the ghostly legends.
What do you see here?
In a classroom exercise, you’re “research”–if you think any is needed–is limited by what you see in the photograph and what the instructor will tell you either in a lecture, a question and answer session, or via handouts. Since I am attracted by legends, especially paranormal stories, I’m going to see this as a place where something ghostly will happen.
How you tend to view real locations, whether they’re lakes, mountains, buildings, or city streets, will influence what “your muse” draws you to consider. Your inclinations may suggest that the instructor should have had several more handouts about the building. One might be how the building is used today. Another might be the kinds of businesses on the first floor and on adjacent streets.
As writers, we look at locations as places where something might happen or where something did happen. Whether you like tying in real history and legends or whether you see locations in terms of what’s happening there in the present day, once you’re attracted to a setting for who knows what reason, story situations may come to mind as you Google (or go to) the setting.
When I first saw pictures of this building, my first thought was, “Good, here’s a cool old building in the Florida Panhandle where I’ve been placing many of my recent stories.”
As I learned about the building–its history, its ghosts, its restoration–ideas began to float around for prospective stories. As this process unfolds, we may never write a story…unless we’re in a classroom and have no choice. If a story comes out of it, the setting was the catalyst and the result was a marriage of the real and the writer’s imagination.
“A secret story should be yours alone: about who you are, who you want to be. Who you believe yourself to be, under all the social conventions and expectations. Are you secretly a sorceress? A priestess? A charmer of animals or teller of fortunes? Are the trees your friends? There is something wonderful about having a secret identity, something that no one knows about you.” – Theodora Goss in her post “Your Secret Story”
Along with “Where do you get your ideas?” the question people ask me the most is, “How much of each story is true?”
Some of the actual events merged into a short story or novel come from an author’s experiences. For example, my Kindle short story “Moonlight and Ghosts” draws slightly on my experience as a unit manager years ago in a center for the developmentally disabled. Other events in an author’s work come from what author Theodora Goss describes as one’s secret story.
A secret story, often begun in childhood, is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, a lifelong imagination-run-wild romp of the things we fantasize about doing or being. In childhood, many of us imagine being wizards or Knights of the Round Table or Superman.
As we grow older, perhaps we change our story to make it more plausible. These stories can be, but usually aren’t, the same as our dreams and goals. Perhaps they come to mind as an all-in-good fun episode we imagine while we’re falling asleep or mowing the yard. Perhaps they have a deeper impact and become our personal myth.
What ever they are, we seldom tell them to each other. Yet, to a writer, they are so much a part of his/her imagination, selected fragments of them wind up in stories or, in some cases, serve as the catalysts for stories.
I wonder if we become truly happy and/or in a state of bliss when our secret story and our daily life become one. Before that happens, these stories are a great source of ideas for the next novel or short story.
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I have brought back my “Book Bits” writing links posts twice a week on my Sun Singer’s Travels blog. Each post includes 8-10 links for recent book news, reviews, how-to articles and features.