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February 10th, 2012

For anyone wondering:  still no word on the book title.  But I will let you know when I do.  And award a winner of some kind.  And now, another writer question.

Where do your ideas come from?

The boring answer is, the ideas come when my subconscious, or barely conscious mind starts making connections between random scraps of information I’ve picked up, keeping my eyes open and absorbing my surroundings.  I think Stephen King describes it, probably in “On Writing”.  He’s driving down an empty street, and asks himself where the people are, and comes up with an entire book.

It’s like that.

As a writer, you keep your eyes open, ask yourself a lot of WHY questions and don’t discard any of the answers (no matter how stupid) until you find one you like.  Basically: brainstorming.

Writers come up with lots of ways to describe the part of them that does this.  Crusie has girls in the basement. I’ve heard Barbara Samuel talk about the Goddess.  Some people talk about the Muse.

Damn, I hate the muse.  She is a contrary bitch who is never around when you need her.  She’s the roommate who eats all the food in the fridge and then is late with the rent.  She is prone to wild mood swings, she drunk dials you when you are too busy to talk, and she is always off with some other writer when you are ready to have a girl’s night in.

This is why I have something more practical.

I have a hamster.  Hamsters don’t do much other than eat, chew and run on the exercise wheel.  And occasionally drive around in KIAs, looking for robots to have LMFAO dance battles with.  Watch out for this breed.  This is really more of a wangsta hamster.  Or Hamsta.  Fun, too undisciplined for this analogy.

Get a regular, naked, hamster, and hook a generator and light bulb to the exercise wheel.  Run him ‘til the light come on.  Hey, Presto!  You have an idea.

So the actual question is “How do I get a hamster?”

(You already have one.  It’s your subconscious)

“I think my hamster is dead.  What do I do now?”

Your hamster is not dead.  It is asleep.

Have you cleaned the cage? (See previous post about getting rid of toxic things in your life that are sucking time, and making you worried and miserable.)

What are you feeding it? All writers will tell you to read.  The ones who say it loudest are men with wives to take care of their small children, buy groceries, balance the checkbook and keep the house.  I am not saying you shouldn’t read. I’m admitting it is hard to find time to do it.  So:  Read.  Watch TV.  Watch movies. Observe. These are all stories, and they can all teach you plot structure.

Watch the real life, too.  It is good for character, conflict and scene, but it blows for full plot development.  Fiction has to make sense.  Real life does not.

If you want to have a live hamster, you don’t get to sleepwalk through life.  Be aware of your surroundings, and look for patterns. You are going to use those patterns to create stories.  You give everything to the hamster, and let him chew on it for a while.

What is your hamster’s schedule? You can train a dog, but a rodent is going to try to train you.  When you get an idea, take note of what you are doing?  Are you in the shower?  Half asleep?  Driving?  It is often going to be while doing repetitive actions and it has something to do with increasing gamma brain wave activity.  (Seriously people.  This is chemistry and biology, not miracles.)

You have to learn to store these ideas, and move the recording of them to desk time.  I just remember my stuff.  Write it down if you have to.  Record it on your phone.  But if you are actually driving, for God’s sake, keep your hands on the wheel.

But once you have the kernel of an idea, repeat it to yourself until it sticks, adding a little more detail each time.  You don’t need an entire book.  Start with a scene and work out from there.

Now it is time to move these ideas to paper (or, since this is the 21st c, the computer).    You need to develop some sensory triggers that say to the hamster “Time to run”.  Light a candle.  Wear lucky socks or a soft sweater.  Play the same music, over and over again, until you can’t hear it any more.  If it is Party Rock Anthem, check to see if your hamster is wearing a hoodie.  Then take his car keys away.

Michael Crichton used to eat the same food for lunch every day, for an entire book.  I’ve done this for some books.  Not only does it help with concentration, it removes that troublesome “What’s for lunch?” question.  Michael had someone to bring him the lunch.  Most of us do not.

What I’m suggesting is basically self hypnosis.  Every time you have writing success, take note of your physical environment, and tell yourself that the two are related.  Repeat the conditions over and over until you begin to associate lighting a candle, having a chicken sandwich (or in my case, doing an online jigsaw puzzle) with beginning to write.

Try to have several cues.  You don’t want to become so dependent on any one thing that you get writer’s block every time you run out of matches, or have to throw your sweater in the wash.

So now you know. Ideas come from hamsters.  Kind of makes you wonder why so many writers are cat people.