“Where do you get your ideas?”
It’s an oft asked question, posed by both adults and children alike. I’ve blogged about this subject before, but it occurred to me the other day that, for me, it’s not getting the ideas, but trying to throttle them back that’s a problem, because this question goes hand-in-hand with another one: how do you know when a book is really finished? New, fiendishly clever plot and character ideas seem to constantly bombard me when I’m writing, often coming when I’m least expecting them (my muse is a particularly devious so-and-so, often waiting until I’m half asleep before dropping the mother-of-all-ideas into my unguarded consciousness), and when I have one of these great ideas, I feel almost bound to incorporate it into my work. If I don’t, it hangs around in the back of my mind whispering, “This could be SO much better if you’d only do what you know needs to be done and go rewrite those first five chapters,”
I’m a ‘pantser’. For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it’s a term (I don’t think it’s meant to be derogatory, but it has that ring to it, doesn’t it?) to describe somebody who doesn’t plot, but just sits down and writes. It’s a more ‘organic’ approach to writing, and I think it gets me into a lot of trouble at times. What it does do, however, is allow me to embrace new ideas in to my work in a way that a plotter may not so easily be able to. On the negative side, pantsers are more likely to work in a more back-and-forth manner, jumping around as their muse dripfeeds them, rewriting large sections of the book as the narrative takes shape in their mind. It’s a fun, sometimes infuriating way in which to work.
But as any pantser will tell you, there has to be an end to this at some stage. As much as you love and cherish your muse (even a nefarious, sleep-wrecking one), there has to come a point when you put your fingers in your ears and do the la-la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you. If you can’t do that, you’re destined never to finish the book. You’ll spend the rest of your life trying to write the perfect book, turn into a gibbering madman, or simply give up your dreams of becoming an author.
I don’t think there’s a writer alive who can look at one of their books and says, “Yep, that’s pretty much perfect.” We all would like one last chance to edit it again and change the sentence/paragraph/chapter that really grates on us now the book is up there on the shelf. The ideas continue to come, even when the book has rolled off the printing press. It’s infuriating.