Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Talking It Out

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Neil Gaiman wrote a fantastic post once about asnwering the question "Where do you get your ideas?" In particular, he talks about the resistance that is often offered to the only real answer he can give: "'I make them up,' I tell them. 'Out of my head.'" He has some great ideas about fielding these sorts of questions, but my absolute favourite part of the post is the bit where he addresses the problem of people approaching him, as a writer, and offering to share their Great Idea with them.

Gaiman describes them as: "the people who come up to you and tell you that they've Got An Idea. And boy, is it a Doozy. It's such a Doozy that they want to Cut You In On It. The proposal is always the same - they'll tell you the Idea (the hard bit), you write it down and turn it into a novel (the easy bit), the two of you can split the money fifty-fifty."

The moment always makes me grin a little, because it assumes the exact opposite of what is actually hard about writing, Ideas are the easy part. I have ideas constantly. I would go so far to say that I am an automatic idea producing machine. It's the writing, the work, that is the hard part.

When I was still a teenager, I kept a book of all my writing ideas: books and stories and poems that I wanted to write, ideas that I would one day see to fruition but that just seemed to hard at the present moment. I'd capture the essence of the story, jot down a quick outline with the major plot points ot imagery and central character, to keep it as a place holder. When I started, I was terrified of losing a single idea, believing they were finite, or rare.

I've long since abandonned trying to keep track of my ideas in any real way. The ideas that don't move me enough to put in the work gradually sink into the background, languishing away in my mind's vault. But some of them burn too brighly to ignore. They poke at me constantly, gathering momentum, being added to and growing in strength until I have no choice but to give them an outlet.

It's the moment that and idea seems to have filled your mind to the brim and is positively aching to come out that I want to talk about, and that I've learned is particularly crucial to the writing process. When you feel anxious, over-full, positively about to explode with an idea, knowing how to direct that energy is deeply important.

Personally talking out an idea is, for me, an extremely important part of the process. Ideas confined to my own head tend to be disordered, buggy, like a deck of playing cards thrown against a wall. Talking it out helps me put it back into order, to see which cards go where. I often learn the structure of an idea while talking about it outloud, bouncing thoughts off one of my very few trusted sources and collaborators. Once I have the idea fixed in place, and have talked through it, it seems much more solid. I have the security and the solidity to be able to begin.

I've also learned that, as good as talking out an idea can be at the beginning ot a project, talking about it too much can easily extinguish the magic. An idea that wants to be written puts pressure on you, pokes and prods your brain around, and often makes you feel uncomfortable (especially when you are not writing. This is useful and good. Talking about an idea once it is already in place just to let off steam and relieve some of the pressure can actually keep you from writing. It satisfies too much of the storyteller's urge. It's important to keep a certain amount of it pent up, to harnass that energy to ultimately write the thing.

Talk out your ideas to find structure, place them in order, and to feed them. But then, treat your idea like a mangic spell that you are working on. Keep it secret, secret safe, abd don't actually extinguish the magic by talking about it too much. Keep yourself under enough pressure that you have no choice but to drag your idea from the realm of thought into words.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Natalie Zina Walschots

Natalie Zina Walschots is a music writer, poet and editor based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publications, both in print and online. Natalie's second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems For Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press in the Spring of 2012.

Go to Natalie Zina Walschots’s Author Page