Inspiration is a funny beast, isn’t it? It strikes at the strangest of times and decides to up-sticks and leave you alone at others. For example, I almost invariably get most of my favourite plot ideas whilst driving home from any sort of gathering (be it LRP, or convention or similar). Then, when I get home and try to translate it from the terrifying interiority that exists inside my skull to the screen… nothing. Gibberish. Seriously, the screen may as well read ‘sdkldblkjb lkm lkdsgk lk mlefjlkmcv’ for all the sense it makes.
In my head, I scream silently, this was bloody amazing!
The first person to invent a device that allows you to plug your brain directly into a USB socket and get those thoughts down before they turn to mush will be a fine individual indeed.
Generally, I do OK getting thoughts and ideas out of my brain and onto the keyboard. I type infuriatingly fast (accordingly to one of my friends) and that helps with the brain to keyboard process wonderfully well. The real problem for me stems from the fact that when I talk, I am always thinking about four or five sentences ahead of myself. Does that make any sense? I have no idea why it is that I do that, but every so often it means that in the middle of a conversation I’ll just stop dead and completely and utterly forget where I was. So even with the infuriating level typing speed, this means that occasionally, when I’m writing down thoughts and ideas, the same thing happens. My way around this has become quite simple. Initial plot ideas now get produced as stream of consciousness. Silly comments and all. Then I go back over them and refine them; take out the silly comments and make them into more acceptable working documents.
For example, when brainstorming with m’colleague John French on our tied-together stories that appear in Architect of Fate, the following was in the original outline that I shared with him before the story was completed. Apparently it made him giggle.
‘Another fight breaks out with I don’t know, a giant hot dog with legs, firing mustard. This is the Warp, man.’
This sentence gave rise to the story’s ‘code name’ of Project: Hotdog. Note: all my stories end up with code names. I’ve never quite been sure why this is, but it’s entertaining and allows me to happily discuss something I’m working on without the worry of openly acknowledging what it is. For example, I recently turned Project: Needles into the editor, am working on edits for Project: Comeuppance and working hard(ish) on Project: Carpark. For reference, The Gildar Rift is the only story that never had a project codename. Going on how excited I was to be writing a novel which was rapidly tempered by the discovery of how hard it actually is to write a novel whilst working full time, it should have been Project: Harsh Reality.
I enjoy stream of consciousness plotting. It allows me to express what I’m feeling without the constraints of the formality a pitch requires. I should really have kept some of the early drafts of the plot development of The Gildar Rift, for example. Had my former hard drive not imploded with the spiteful force of a device hellbent on eating 67k words of a manuscript – which it also accomplished, hooray for the 47k previous emailed-to-self back-up copy – I’d have had that to hand.
Most of my blogs are stream of consciousness style actually. Today, for example. I was contemplating what to write about and asked The Son for his ideas. ‘Inspiration,’ he said, looking up briefly from where he was caught up playing Deus Ex. So today’s blog became about inspiration. It rapidly devolved into an inward-looking self-criticism of my own inability to capture the darned stuff properly. I mean, I’ve got better at it over the last couple of a years. I have a notebook that goes everywhere with me now and I jot down things as they occur to me. Sometimes, however, I’ll turn the page of the notebook, see something written there and wonder ‘uh… OK. What the hell is that about?’ Example: we saw a ‘For Sale’ sign somewhere and the name of the estate agents was ‘Gadsby Orridge’. If that isn’t a name for a noir-esque Private Detective…
(Which automatically reminds me of a back-burner project called ‘Project: Time Freeze’. The previous may give you some idea what it entails…)
So inspiration strikes in the strangest of places. Whilst driving along and catching a glimpse of roadsigns (the A1, for example, features many would-be Hollywood actors. Burton Coggles. Kirk Smeaton to name but two). For Sale signs, or… any number of things. A half-empty field with a single van parked in the almost exact dead centre. Why is that van there? What is it doing? Ever since I was little, I made up stories based on things I saw as we were driving along – a pastime my mum encouraged to stop me being car sick, I suspect.
Inspiration does not yet come in some kind of handy ‘tap-turning’ form. There’s no magic switch to press that turns humdrum reality off and switches over to the delightful silliness of idea forming. It just happens. I wish it was more controllable though. There’s not much more embarrassing than white-noising out an entire meeting whilst your brain contemplates exactly how it is you’re going to deal with that Silver Skulls Space Marine who is demanding you pick up his story and create Project: Surprise!
Someone get to work on that USB device, please. Chop, chop.