Genius = 1% inspiration + 99%perspiration
That seems a reasonable division. One small seed of inspiration plus a lot of toil and sweat to expand and develop that seed, hone it into a satisfying piece of writing. But how to find that seed which can grow, the spark which keeps the pen moving, the fingers tapping the keyboard. How good that feels when a story or poem reels out of the brain in a continuous thread.
But where to find that seed, that spark, that germ of an idea?
Some people go for a walk. The rhythmic plod along a city pavement or down a country lane often seems to block out your surroundings, so you focus on the germ of an idea. Then there is the opposite effect so you might see something unusual, some juxtaposition of unlikely objects which sparks an idea.
Some people take a leisurely bath, and let their minds drift in the warmth and solitude. No distractions.
But why don’t you look in the back of your cupboard?
All writers have notebooks, scraps of paper with hurriedly jotted ideas, interesting quotes, phrases or words which one day struck a chord. Or more substantial partly written stories which didn’t have the legs to carry them over the finishing line and then there are the rejects. What a ragbag.
Twice a year I promise myself to de-clutter and bring out folders of scraps or so notebooks, some dating to the 1980s.
I read back and think something was quite good – for its time, and that is a spur to throw it out. But hang on.
The setting, the dialogue, the characters might be dated. People don’t speak like that anymore, especially children. It is no longer the standard for teachers to make sarcastic remarks, sharp put-downs and “amusing” comments, part of some teachers’ stock in trade, which still rankle years later.
Society has changed radically. Children don’t usually take off on their bikes for the day with a picnic and lashings and lashings of lemonade. They can’t ramble over farms, which more likely have notices up for disease control. Both adults and children wrestle with tensions of step-families and pressures of work.
A tip for your notebooks
I number the pages of a new notebook and set up an index as I start to use it. Anything placed has a large tick across the page, and in the index. This makes it easier to leaf through or quickly look up something you remember writing.
Not the right shape?
Perhaps the writing didn’t come to fruition because it wasn’t in the right format.
That short story told in the third person would turn into a powerful flash told in the first person, and made leaner with fewer descriptions and adverbs. Or perhaps told by a different third person, even the thoughts of an observant cat
At a recent Creative Hub Q and A I realised that my 25,000 word book aimed at 9-11 year old boys which ran out of steam in chapter 3 was the wrong shape. I didn’t have enough football knowledge to carry the story to the end, even with my son as technical adviser. I hadn’t been inside a high school for years. The whole setting was full of bear-traps for my ignorance. BUT, the emotional drive behind the characters was just as valid, and would be better explored in a 2500 short story.
Have you ever recognized that the plot of some of Agatha Christie’s short stories have emerged later in a full-length novel, with characters and country tweaked?
And composers also have a drawerful of snatches of music which can be re-worked into another piece.
I have written the same incident as a short story and as a poem. Some work better than others. You just have to look for the right shape.
So don’t jettison your good ideas.
Look in your ragbag. It’s a treasure trove.