Monday, September 21, 2009

Well of Creativity


I had one of those dreams early Sunday morning that leaves me with a book idea and pulls me out of bed to get my thoughts into a notebook before they are lost to me forever (a murder mystery of sorts). It has got me pondering the source of creativity. Is there some deep underground (subconscious) sea of it that just needs something like deep relaxation to allow it to burble up to the surface? Or is there an external source?


I read blogs from successful writers like Elizabeth who is always attending the world around her, noting characters and situations and thinking how they would fit into a book. I have to confess though… I don’t normally pay that much attention. I’ve usually got some mad parade in my head that excludes much of that around me.

But is it perhaps genre specific? She writes mystery, a genre that is by necessity about details. My books sometimes HAVE a mystery, but they are not mystery by genre. The current WiP is probably thriller—CONFLUENCE is less easy to pin down.

Therapy Time

I’m going to parse out the source of a few of my ideas here and see if there’s a pattern…

CONFLUENCE: the original seed was the Eberwhite Woods. When I first moved to Ann Arbor we lived in an apartment, and on my walk to work I passed these wonderful woods, daydreaming about living in one of the houses that butted up against the woods. My daughter was then five. I’d heard from a realtor that though they were nice woods, there still was occasionally ‘an incident’ (I think a rape, many years ago now) so not to go in there at night. Still nice to live by them? In my wanderings—day time of course, I once saw a sleeping bag tucked in the trees… Woods with a life going on, unseen from the privileged streets.

So that was a real life detail I noticed. Admittedly not until probably the 100th pass… oh, I saw the WOODS before that, but it was well into my daydream of living there that the child/homeless man friendship occurred to me.

The second concrete idea for CONFLUENCE was election signs—4 years later. I know. I’m poky. Realize though, that at that point I thought of ‘author’ as about as possible as ‘empress’ in my listing of jobs I’d like to have. I periodically wrote down ideas, but I hadn’t written anything substantial in more than a decade. But it got me thinking about a community divided by politics, not that Ann Arbor is divided. So far as I can tell, they don’t let Republicans live here. But I could see the POTENTIAL for a divided community.

Enter power walk and the brainchild of Jessie… a teenager living in this split community—her parents protected because adults have the ability to isolate themselves among like-others, but a high school kid? Not so much…

So I suppose for my first completed novel there were a number of observed elements, pulled together through adrenaline.

LEGACY: On the other hand, the first inspiration for the trilogy I am currently working on was a vivid dream that I was sitting at a desk writing (big surprise) and could ‘feel’ that I was being watched… there were children living in my walls… you know dreams… they are wacky… and executed it isn’t as strange as it sounds.

The second inspiration was a blog… drat, I wish I could remember whose (Galen? I think it was)—about finding love letters? Is this your book? But in my warped mind this turned into a runaway teenager seeking human contact at far less risk than the awful real life people she had been encountering. She first steals mail to take to the library as proof of residence so she can get a library card (homeless kids still need to read!) but one of the letters is too tempting not to open… she reads the first love letter of what becomes a life line for her—reading the letters coming in and going out between a high school girl and her Army boyfriend. This was going to be a separate story until connections began to occur to me—the power walks again…

Most of the ideas in my notebook began in dreams—other than the more memoirish things that will have to wait until later in my career to flush out (my own life is more fodder for women’s lit than thriller), but it is looking more and more like I need some real world stimulation to really dive into the plot very heavily…

I’ve talked about my ‘simmering time’ and I think this may be why. An observant person can notice life details with more ease than somebody as disconnected from reality as I usually am.

HOWEVER… I’d love to hear from authors of a variety of genres—especially people who’ve written several books, maybe even in multiple genres—does inspiration come from reliable places? Is it the same across genres? Have you ever resorted to something different because the one you counted on was failing you?

9 comments:

scotticohn said...

This is fascinating stuff, Hart! Thanks so much for writing it. I have had dreams that I *thought* I could make into a story, but upon awakening and pursuing the idea, I discovered I couldn't get it to work. That's what happens with most of my ideas, I'm afraid. I have trouble developing them into a full-fledged story or novel. Eventually I run across too many questions or problems that I can't solve, and the project dies.

I can trace the creation of my children's picture book (One Wolf Howls / Sylvan Dell, 2009) back to a dream I had in which I was a wolf running along a country road. I could feel all four paws hitting the ground. I saw men up ahead with guns, and I took cover by lying low in very tall grass and watching. The book that came out of this (eventually, after several years) doesn't bear much of a resemblance to the dream at all -- other than it is about wolves.

Watery Tart said...

Scotti-how fascinating! I'm never a non-person when I dream... Have you read The Loop? It seems to me part of that is from the wolf perspective, but it's been years, so maybe it is just that the heroine is so sympathetic to them that you feel for the wolves (though I could swear some of it was from the alpha female perspective)--GREAT book.

And like I said--most of my ideas just sit in a folder... it takes a lot of simmering before anything comes of one, and then only maybe one in a dozen. The other ideas are still just sitting...

M.J. Nicholls said...

The entire genesis of my first (and only) published novel is an experience FAILING to write successfully in my chosen genre(s).

The book became a spoof on genre-writing and evolved into a satire on the nightmare of writing.

I try to take down observations rather than character details, in my day-to-day life. Collecting the unique minutiae of your brain-world and larding these details into stories is the way to go for me.

Very illuminating thoughts, Monsieur Tart.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

I wish I could take the credit for helping to inspire Legacy, but, Jane Kennedy Sutton is who I think you have in mind. She did a post about old letters she’d found and how the art of writing them is disappearing. My book starts with an old photo…matter of fact, old photos play a role in both my books…never realized that til just this second. Hmmm. Apparently I think old pictures are cool…which, I do. So, there’s a place for you to look for more inspiration…as if you need it. HA!

Best Regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

siderealview said...

have to say, Hart, the dreamscape is a mine of wonders, not all of which rematerialize in light of day, but my bedside is littered with scraps of paper overpencilled in the dark by the 'other' hand... some I still haven't deciphered. I think (for me) dreaming brings 'wow' factor, but what you say about inner calm, or creating something written after a meditation or your 'power walk' makes sense.

My catalyst for 'Shasta' was actually a flight on an Embraer (v. small prop plane, wings held together with glue) from SFO where I was only allowed on board because I was top of the list of 'bumped' passengers; all other (29) seats required for emergency fire fighters from all over US answering call to help dowse forests burning in No.Cal. I, like you, am normally 'in my head' but 'observer' came out that flight - so many heroes/heroines in one space - all talking differently - dialogue paradise - for me. I wrote two chapters in dialogue based on that flight! I digress. Your subject is great & endless, so no wonder you've got us all commenting... Marian

Cruella Collett said...

In the grand total of 496 books, in the grand total of 568 genres I have written (or is that yet to write? - I never can remember...) I have never, ever had a plot come to me from a dream. My plots almost exclusively start with a character in a peculiar situation - often the result of a string of thought triggered by a real life observation. I get them on the bus (people watching), when I read (blunt plagiarism), from random conversations (a single word is enough), and, recently, when I am supposed to do thesis research (my digressionary brain refuses to cooperate).
I have yet to develop your nack for combining plots, which might be the reason I have a hard time writing long stuff (except the 496, that is).

*Kas* said...

seeing as how i'm not a writer... i'd just like to say that freud, jung, and all the various other dream analysts would be proud. personally, i find the few dreams i remember rather disturbing, and definitely NOT book-worthy. my inspiration comes from the people around me. :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

My dreams are all really pedestrian--I can't remember my locker combination and I'm late for class, etc. Sigh. But "Kubla Khan" came to Coleridge in a dream (okay, but there was opium involved. :) )

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Watery Tart said...

MJ--Love the writing on writing! I've read a fair few novels that actually are from writer perspective and I enjoy them, but finding the humor is an excellent survival mechanism!

Galen-I could have SWORN it was you! I actually need to read your book, then I will remember better!

Marian--love that you keep the scraps actually at the bedside--hubby would grumble and kvetch if I actually stayed there and wrote, even in the dark--I usually scuttle into the bathroom where my writing stuff all sits by the tub. --your experience sounds fascinating (if terrifying)--definitely book stuff!

Mari--you stick with that observation thing--your observations are one of the most entertaining things in my life (and I don't even observe them)--the connecting points will come (power walks?)

Kas-you are too a writer--and disturbing dreams make GREAT book fodder--though maybe write them down and set them aside for a decade so the disturbing thing isn't quite so...erm... disturbing...

Elizabeth-the dream you have sounds like a standard variety anxiety dream! For years mine with the test when I'd never even been to class, but it transferred to a waitressing dream (where we are slammed and I can remember orders and people keep coming in) as a stress reality never approached was replaced by one that it HAD--I spent 6 years waitressing while going to grad school and then doing my thesis.

Opium huh? *teehee* somehow things like that have lost their appeal--but I remember a couple... erm... experiences that involved writing fantasies that in the morning were indecipherable around my college years...