Creatures born of a fevered imagination creep from shadows.
From under dust they crawl to assail the mind that created them.
Abominations both twisted and beautiful arise from years gone by,
Imprinted on the memory of the universe by a disturbed hand.
* * *
If the human mind is shackled by the limitations of a mortal body, then perhaps a final accounting is desirable, to reveal the extent to which we each explored our gifts.
* * *
Or maybe I should just get down off my high horse. I’ve been digging up old notebooks, many that I don’t imagine as being more than a few months unseen, but when I uncover them from the stack they are damp or dusty. In these notebooks I have scribed the ideas I talked about in the poem above. There are many of them, though not infinite except for the fact that I still add on to their mass.
I am an idea machine, but I didn’t start out this way. You can become an idea machine if you want. Mostly I’d credit my ability to build too many ideas to three things:
1) The use of a set of What-if questions (Which I picked up from Michael A Stackpole’s “The Secrets” podcast).
2) Not being picky, but honest with myself.
Those are numbered in order of ascending importance.
1 What-if Questions
The What-if questions are based on a situation and asking questions about the situation. So I’ve got a postman. What if he didn’t deliver regular mail, but instead people’s souls? Silly, but there you go, its still an idea. Asking the question again could go like this: The postman delivers souls is our starting point. What if he delivers them because people don’t have souls in this world, but instead have to buy them?
There’s also the warped what-if, which is where you ask: “What if the obvious situation is reversed?”
So the postman delivers souls, and instead of delivering them to people who don’t have souls already, he delivers them to people who have souls, but need more for some reason. Evil sorcerers? Maybe. But what if he delivers only to good sorcerers who are using the souls for a noble purpose? That way we get a nice, moral, postman.
Ask these questions over and over and eventually it becomes second-nature. You may to pitch stuff, but moreover…
2 Don’t be Picky!
This is a pretty simple point, but I think it’s important. If you want to come up with good ideas you have to accept that the early ones won’t be as good as the later ones. Coming up with crap is FINE, even natural. Good ideas are more likely to arise from effort and practice, not from random thought. This is completely unscientific by the way, being that I only know for sure how I work.
In any case, I think its likely that the more stuff one does along a certain line of thought then the better the stuff will get provided the creator is still excited to be working on that line.
Most important of all about not being picky, however, is that ideas have better quality through depth than through what I could call, ‘spark’ or ‘High Concept’. These are the ideas with an easy pitch to them: A pizza delivery man for the mob (Neal Stephenson came up with that one, I think). Or one of my old (and kinda of iffy) ones: The executioner of the human race turns out to be Jesus.
Spark ideas are great! Shiny, powerful, and no-worse than any other idea. But also not that much more powerful, if even a little bit, than a less flashy idea explored in depth and written well. So don’t be picky with your ideas. Don’t wait around for a better one. Use the springboards you find and build on early foundations.
To get good at anything a person has to work at it. Even people with a favorable disposition toward a skill don’t start out at their best with it. Learning is important, and in the arts the best way to learn is by doing. In fiction learning is cheap (except in time). So get to it if that’s your ambition!
Nearly 10 years ago I started practicing writing seriously. Only last year do I feel like I’ve started producing truly workable fiction.
This thing takes time, so be persistent.
That’s my soapbox for the day. Have a good one everybody!