Friday, July 23, 2010

The raw material

The popular wisdom is that all writers have great imaginations and everything we write comes from that room in the brain where ideas flourish like the nut grass that loves to choke our tropical lawns.

I know differently. The raw material for writing comes from real life, and by real life I mean the life of the writer. We don't 'imagine' it all. Heather Sellers in Page After Page refers to this raw material as compost. Some go so far as to say the label 'fiction' is a misnomer because everything that writers write is taken from their real or vicarious experience.

Sometimes I sit at the computer and chase after ideas. Brainstorming, it's called. What I usually end up with is a drizzle of possibilities, none of which glow and beckon, and they certainly don't storm.

Ideas get me instead. Seemingly from nowhere, but actually from my subconscious as it continually processes the raw material - the compost - of my life, an idea appears, and it is so delectable I have to write it down. These ideas occur in the most unlikely of places: the shower, a management meeting where I really should be paying better attention, in a taxi, and sometimes while I sleep.

By the time anyone emerges from childhood he or she already has a sizeable compost pile that continues to swell and teem as the years pass. Some of it is new, raw and smelly, and we don't want to touch it. Part is quietly rotting down, transforming itself into the rich material of future ideas for stories. And right at the bottom, deep in the subconscious, is the good stuff. We can search for it, or it can announce itself 'out of the blue' - actually through deep associations we barely understand and seldom recognise.

Call it imagination. Call it the subconscious, or the akashic record. Call it whatever you will, but that's where our stories begin. We find them, or they find us, and we cultivate them - painstakingly, painfully at times, lovingly - into those brand new releases that give us so much joy. All we need to do is keep enriching that compost heap of life with new experiences and lots and lots of reading.

Happy composting!


Charles Gramlich said...

Well said. I agree completely. I like the image of the compost heap as an analogy. A Great one.

Farrah Rochon said...

What a great analogy! I totally agree that ideas seemingly pop out of nowhere, and always at the most inopportune time (says the girl who has had to pull over on the side of the interstate to jot down story ideas).

Debs said...

They do keep popping out of nowhere, and long may that happen.

Liane Spicer said...

Charles, it certainly is. I read the book years ago and that image has stuck with me although I've forgotten most of the rest of it.

Farrah, yes! Like when I'm asleep and I have to wake myself and start looking for something to scribble on. Sometimes I hope I'll remember later but if I don't note them they're gone.

Deb, keep 'em coming, I say.

Phyllis Bourne said...

When you relax, it's funny how the story ideas always come to you! Usually, when you're trying to get to sleep!

Jewel Amethyst said...

Like you, Liane, my story ideas come at the most inopportune times (like while I'm giving a presentation or driving).

I like the composting analogy. So true, so true.

Liane Spicer said...

Jewel, yes it is! Sellers also says the composting process takes about ten years, making it much easier to write about life events further in the past than recent ones, and I've found that to be true for me.