Thinking about ideas

About a month ago I went to an excellent writer’s meeting organised by our church and we discussed the methods of writing and the formation of ideas. We heard one author’s take on the process (Steve, help me out, who was it?) and as it was being read, I formed one of my own. It is a visual representation of the idea process that goes on in my head, and how I handle it. So I’m sorry if this idea about ideas is a bit hard to follow, but I hope it’s interesting.

The idea formation is like finding a rough gemstone in your brain. It’s beautiful and pure but has an uncomfortable form. The edges are rough, but sometimes that’s fine. What I then chose to do with it is to look it over for a while as I decide what to do with it. This means the idea sits in the back of my mind just lurking there for a bit, in this instance, it’s been about a month. As I think about it, I will do one of two things with it. One of those is that I will cut it down, removing waste and smoothing out the rough edges. The beautiful gem is now changed and its purity is lessened, but its usefulness and beauty are improved. The other activity is synthesizing it with other gems I have in the bank. These gems may not even seem like gems, but be rusty metal. The result will be something I’m happy with, as I won’t stop until I get to this point. Something like a ring is now formed in my head, but it’s only for me.

It’s only then that I begin to write it, which is what I’m doing here. Some say this is mutilating the pure form that you had in your head, or as Stephen King put it, “Kill your darlings.” However, I’ve never seen it that way, because I still get to see my gem. The thing I create is an ode to it, and quite frankly, if they could see it fully, they’d probably love it too. If I can just show them a hint of my gem, then I’d be happy. Better yet, I give them a new gem to mould and synthesize themselves.

So, that’s what works for me. It takes time and effort, but it’s always worth it. I rarely know where it’s going to go when I start and even if I think I do, a new gem can come along and lead to a complete redesign. I much prefer that to finding imperfections that need to be carved out.

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6 thoughts on “Thinking about ideas

  1. Hi,

    nice post, good thoughts. But, dare I say it, there’s nothing wrong with imperfections.

    The book I read from was “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard. That book, and “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” are like dynamite. Also, I heard recently it was William Faulkner who said ‘kill your darlings’, but hey, same difference.

    Steve

  2. chrysalisloall

    Thanks. On the subject of imperfections, I’d say they matter to me. I know I’m only happy when I can’t see any myself, but my idea of imperfections may not be the same as the reader’s and almost certainly won’t be complete.

    I know there are some who really don’t mind about the imperfections and as soon as they have an idea must share it. This can sometimes mean that while they are in flow it feels like I am being bombarded with rocks without any time to process them. That’s just me though, as I know some people love that kind of environment. I know I’m very prone to information overload and take a long time to process things. But that’s for another post on personality types 😉

    Whether I’m taking too much time is a good question, but I think not. I want to write about things clearly and until I see what it is clearly, I don’t think I can do that. Others will be different to me, but this is me. And above is the result, which is not bad.

  3. Oh, I think I misunderstood your post initially. Are you saying that you think things over and over until something you’re happy with emerges? And then, what you write doesn’t have to ‘perfectly’ reveal your Idea, but rather any “hint of [your] gem” is reward enough?

    If so, that’s slightly different to what we were saying a month ago, which is more about editing what’s on paper rather than what’s in your head.

    I think ideas come in all shapes and sizes (like your gems/metal image) but also ideas come in different speeds and urgencies. Some need incubating, others need to see daylight immediately. Some are edited and played with and polished over and over with in the author’s head before any writing is attempted.

    But either way, once an Idea has been turned into words, it is something else. And it is unlikely that the first words are true to the Idea, so those words need to be edited, polished, transformed, rejected, massaged, into something else, something solid.

    Dillard was saying that the solid something can never be the idea; the kill-your-darlings approach is saying that no matter how much we love what we write, we have to be unsentimental in our editing. That is, even if we have chosen a particular metaphor or rhyme say, and we enjoy it and rejoice in it, if it doesn’t work, get rid of it for the sake of the whole piece. Even if we feel like we are betraying the Idea, the Writing is what matters now.

    I guess a shorter way of saying this is that editing the Idea is different from editing the Writing. If the Idea is worth writing about, surely it is worth editing too.

  4. chrysalisloall

    Yes, the second paragraph is before I even begin to write. And yes the writing transforms it entirely. I always think I write better if the idea is one I know, and then I get the urgency to tell people it. When writing I try not to alter the gem in my mind, but just try and create a new summary of it. Its like a painting of the crown jewels of my head; stylised and inaccurate in place but still beautiful and valuable.

    Heck, even writing this has given me a new idea. I just wondered what it would feel like for everyone to have an image of your impression of your gem. For example, do artists like their famous works being turned into postcards? Would van Gogh be happy that we are all familiar with his Daffodils but some felt that the vague summary was sufficient.

    I digress, ideas about writing and ideas are excting. Gives us a clearer idea of how creation works. Has to make you wonder if we are God’s perfect darlings or not?

  5. Sunflowers, not daffodils.

    Good point about creation though.

    In terms of (art) history, modernism was a lot concerned with making a perfect representation of what’s inside, and tried to achieve perfection by breaking rules, such as impressionism, fauvism, cubism, surrealism in art. Realism just isn’t realistic enough, since paintings are static and 2d, films are linear and only last 90 mins, plays are immersive but limited by time and space, and so on. But even going beyond realism wasn’t enough. Even breaking the tonal and rhythmic rules of music, inventing new instruments, getting out of the concert hall, wasn’t enough.

    Post-modernism recognised the inability to perfectly portray our gems (as it were) and so stresses the isolation of people – hence the angst and nihilism of existentialism in extremis, or irony in popular culture.

    People seem unable to create anything perfectly. God has no constraints (discuss…?) and created this world. To repeat your question – are we a perfect representation of God’s gems, or is God bigger than that?

  6. chrysalisloall

    Interesting note on art history. Good to know. I think I’d still like to try to make something good from my gem. I think the joy is trying to share it. I really love writing down a well formed gem, as its really good to get it across. I really enjoy that moment when people say “Oh, I get it!” and then their brain can start to play with it.

    I agree, people can’t create anything perfectly. I think the question of whether God could is not really up for debate, but I doubt he did with us. We were made in His image and we are clearly not perfect copies of Him. But I seriously doubt that God ever wanted to make us copies of Him, so there would be some intended alterations. Therefore, it is natural to assume that some perfections would have been introduced in His idea for what we should be. The fall and the flood both show times when mankind as a whole failed to meet God’s desires. He regretted making us (who can relate to that?!) and its here where I imagine he wondered to himself how He could have made us better. Where the refinements he would have made introduced during the creation or during the design? Good question.

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