Where do your ideas get you?

A blog post I was asked to write for the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook

“Where do you get your ideas?”

A great many writers will profess to hate being asked this stinky old chestnut, but I suspect they secretly enjoy it because it confirms a belief they have about non-writers, and that belief is this: They haven’t got a clue what we do.

They can’t have – can they? – if they think that’s how it happens. They don’t realise they’ve got this ideas thing ass-backwards and it’s not you who has the idea but the idea that has you.

Ideas emerge from your unconscious without warning, springing out of nowhere like the spongy dart of a chameleon’s tongue. The work you do as a writer is crafting and organising the ideas your unconscious mind provides.

Sometimes we’re offered a peek behind the scenes and get to see the unconscious mind going about its business.

In my experience the best demonstration of all of the operation of the unconscious mind comes at around 4am each morning when my bladder wakes me up and compels me to trudge to the loo in the dark.

In this somnambulant state, my conscious mind is aware of a vast, seething torrent of thought coursing just beneath it. It’s like standing on a rock amid thrashing whitewater rapids, or watching a hyped-up Robin Williams hogging a chatshow. The speed and variety of ideas that tumble forth from the brain at that ungodly hour is simply astounding.

What’s even more astounding is that you can guide the course this torrent takes, interrogate it and receive answers. Try it next time you’re stuck for a character name, joke or plot twist. You’ll be amazed at what you come up with.

Mark Griffiths’ debut novel Space Lizards Stole My Brain! is published in January 2012 by Simon & Schuster. TV Go Home is re-released by Faber & Faber.

He secured an agent by using The Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook.


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