Leave It Alone and It Will Come Home
Here’s the thing, yesterday I had the honor of reading and speaking and signing books at my local library in Havertown, Pennsylvania. It’s just up the street. I love libraries. I love the stacks of books, the energy, the sounds, the lighting, all the signs and posters and notices on bulletin boards. Everything. But yesterday was a special visit. I told the audience how as a child I would wander the stacks of the library in search of literary treasure and how I would often find a corner in the library and sit and read usually until the librarian would tap me on the shoulder and tell me my mother called—it’s time for dinner.
One of the questions that I am asked pretty much at every event is about ideas. Where they come from? What do I do with them when I get them? The short answer is, “I don’t know,” which to some extent is true. I really am not sure what makes one thought an idea and another thought, “oh yeah, I need toilet paper.” Ideas are out there, I suppose. Sometimes I think I’m like Velcro moving through the universe and ideas glom on to me like burrs on my dog’s fur. I pick off the good ideas and discard the bad. This much I do know, ideas, the best ideas happen when I’m not thinking about needing an idea. For instance, if I’m stuck at the beginning of a novel I try not to force the issue, instead I let the ideas come to me however they will. I’ve read that ideas happen, solutions to problems or puzzles come when we rest our brains, stop thinking about the problem. This allows our brains to work at the subconscious level and voila! Ideas spring forth.
The best way for me to cultivate ideas is to play a video game, go for a drive, run, take a shower, or do some needlework. I think it’s because when I’m engaged in those activities my writer’s brain is disengaged from the problem at hand and able to do what it needs to do without me getting in the way. If that makes any sense.
The trick is in remembering those ideas. I find it especially hard to jot ideas down while driving. I beg for red lights so I can write it down in my Moleskine—which I have with me at all times. Because it’s true what they say, you never know when lightning will strike. My advice to anyone who is searching for an idea or a solution is to take a walk, play a game, engage in something totally opposite of that task. The idea will come. You just need to give it a rest. I think this works for astrophysicists and bread bakers (dough needs to rest to rise) as well as authors. It makes me wonder if there is any problem that cannot be solved if you leave it alone long enough.