The Dread

“Where do you get your ideas?”

To hear some authors tell it, they are assaulted with this question repeatedly, at all hours of the day and night, and no one seems to know exactly how to answer it. Then, one day, some of them figure out their best answer. Eureka! It sounds good, it’s mostly true, and it leaves people satisfied. Win.

Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they spend the rest of their lives saying things like, “I don’t know.” Or, “It comes to me in a dream.” Or, “I have toast every morning for breakfast. Before I eat it, the bread tells me the idea for the day. But it only works if you toast it just right! Otherwise, the idea gets too dry and it blows away on the breeze coming from the microwave. If you’ve been struggling to write a book, you’re probably just not toasting correctly.”

I think that everyone has ideas for things. For books, television shows, movies, songs, paintings… heck, I have ideas for paintings that I would love to hang on my walls. There’s just that pesky little I-have-no-ability-to-paint thing standing in my way. I can’t translate the ideas in my head onto canvas. I just can’t. It’s not my thing.

I’ve been asked this question before — mostly about short stories that have floated around at some point in the past — but I can’t remember ever answering it. I think I ducked it whenever possible. I didn’t have a good answer then, and I certainly don’t have a good answer now.

Twenty years ago, given the chance to ask my then-favorite author any question I wanted, I probably would have asked something that truly puzzled me – like how one goes about getting published. That was a mystery. In many respects, it still is.

Ten years ago, I probably would have asked something like, “How the bloody hell do you make your freaking characters behave themselves?!” I’ve answered that one for myself: I don’t. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. I have a limited amount of control over them; on a good day, they meander in something that vaguely resembles the right direction (in my opinion), and I have to be satisfied with that. When they go charging off in a different direction entirely, I’ve learned to just hang on and ride it out. Forcing them to do anything always backfires spectacularly; letting them take the lead usually works out for the best.

Today, I don’t know what I’d ask. Probably something much more pitiful, like, “How do you turn it off at three in the morning when you just want to freaking sleep?” Or, “Have you found a recording device that works in the shower?”

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