My daughter has been really into Taylor Swift lately. She’ll get a certain line from one of her songs in her head and sing it nearly all day. So as a result I’ve had a line from Swift’s “Mean” stuck in MY head for several days now: “One day I’ll be living in a great big city, but all you’re ever gonna be is mean”. When that happens I usually start changing the words. If it’s going to be stuck there, I may as well have fun with it. So pretty soon it becomes things like “One day I’ll be blowing up this whole darn city,” or “One day I’ll be really old and not so pretty”, etc.
Well, this morning I got a new one: “One day I’ll be living in an undead city.” Click! The novel I’m currently preparing for is supposed to have something with spirits remaining on the planet instead of passing on to the void. And if they’re hanging around and not wanting to be around the living, where would they go? Why they’d find an empty city somewhere away from everything and live there. There was a major catastrophe on this planet at one point, and the population still hasn’t even begun to recover, so there should be a dead city around somewhere. And once all those ghosts move in you can bet it’s going to stay unpopulated. So now I’ve got my undead city. I wonder if I should have a Taylor Swift-type character living there in her honor.
Dan Wells once said he knew his ideas were ready to start writing when he felt a bunch of ideas that had been sitting around for a while all click into place together. If that’s the case, then I must be getting close. Ideas are clicking into place right and left. It’s rather exciting, though I’ve got a long way to go yet before I can start writing. It’s a pretty rich setting I’m building, because I plan to set an entire series there.
Inspiration is one of those topics writers love to talk about, but can seldom really explain. Ideas come from all sorts of places, and it’s not usually predictable or reliable. I can’t, for example, generate ideas for an entire novel by listening to Taylor Swift, or reading the newspaper. Those are sometimes sources of ideas, but they’re not enough. The novel I’m working on now came from at least a dozen different sources. The initial idea was a failed novel idea from over half a year ago, and that in turn came from a short story I wrote years ago, but have since then lost my only copies. It began to achieve critical mass when I one day realized that there was a connection between that and another idea about setting a novel in a Yellowstone Park type environment.
I know it’s achieved critical mass now, because the idea I’m working to write has nothing to do with Yellowstone Park, but is actually a stand-alone idea set in the same world. The “Yellowstone Park” plot arc is too big to start with. I need something a bit smaller to start with, a way to jump in and play in my new sandbox without committing to a big, elaborate sand castle just yet.
Writing is an art, even though there can be a certain amount of science behind it. But ideation and inspiration? They’re a little of both. Ideas can be illusive, but the science comes in recognizing an idea when you see it. The act of combining and relating ideas is part science, part art. But they all happen inside the mind, which is why it can be easy to mistake the entire process as art only, or even something mystical. When you start talking in terms of mystery, it’s no wonder some writers get discouraged. Some writers would like to keep it that way. Less competition. But there’s nothing mysterious about creativity. It’s just work…like everything else worthwhile.