I usually welcome these questions, even when they arrive at inconvenient times and especially when they send stories in unexpected and challenging directions.
However, very occasionally, I resist these questions. The What If? that prompted my teen thriller Mind Blind arrived unexpectedly and inconveniently. So I scribbled it down, then pushed it to the back of my mind because I didn’t think I had the time, the skills or the desire to do it justice. But it kept pushing forward and demanding to be written, bringing a longer and more enticing line of What Happens Next? questions every time it reappeared. Eventually I gave in and started writing, and I’m really glad I did.
I considered the question for a moment. Then I realised that the story it was leading to was dystopian, sci fi, YA and dark. I don’t mind dark, I’m keen to write more YA, and I suppose you could class Mind Blind as sci fi, but I really really don’t want to write a dystopian book. We’ve already given every possible future world quite enough of those...
So I shrugged, turned the page in the magazine and took another spoonful of muesli. But the question, the thought, the idea, the story, wouldn’t go away. I could feel it. Rattling about in my head. Itching in my fingers. I couldn’t eat any more. I couldn’t concentrate on the next page. I had to write the idea down. I didn’t want to write the book but I felt compelled to scribble down the idea. I had to acknowledge the existence of the question, even if I never intended to answer it.
So I got my ideas notebook and I scribbled the question down. And suddenly all was well with the world. The question had moved from my head to my notebook, and even though I am 99% sure I will never follow it up, I had at least written it down.
But that felt a bit weird. As if I was being compelled, by an idea I didn’t even like, to write it down. To give it houseroom in my creative space.
My notebook is filled with questions and ideas for more books (books I do want to write!) than I will ever have time to write, so I suppose there is no harm in a book I don’t want to write sitting quietly in there.
But it was extremely odd sensation, that compulsion to give this question, this idea, this potential story, its moment. Even though I know I would never follow it through, I nevertheless had to write it down, just as I would with an idea I was excited about.
What was going on there?
Was it a worry that if I didn’t give this What If? question respect, I might block the flow of other (more useful) questions? I’m not a superstitious person, so I don’t think so.
Or was it a process thing, instead? This is what always happens: I have an idea, I write it down. So, when I have an idea, that’s just what I automatically need to do with it. Hmm. I don’t like admitting that I’m such a creature of habit.
But it’s probably better than believing that ideas have an independent and autonomous life of their own! Which could of course, lead to a potentially dark and dystopian future... (I’d better go and scribble that down...)
Lari Don is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers.