Originally posted by me on Patricia Stoltey’s blog in August, 2001.
Every author who has ever appeared in public for a reading or a signing has been asked the inevitable “Where do you get your ideas?” question.
Mine come from two main sources: the news (“Gee, that’s interesting. I wonder what would happen if . . . “); and the shower (“How am I ever going to get Aviva out of this corner I wrote her into? Oh, I know . . . “).
I can now add a third: sleep.
Many years ago, I took a graduate course on creativity (mainly because I figured it would be an easy A; I got an A, but it wasn’t easy). I had long known my creative impulses come from my unconscious or, perhaps, subconscious mind. I don’t outline. I don’t write numerous drafts, tear them up, and start over. I come up with an idea and then let it simmer for a while. By the time I sit down to write (in grad school, on a portable Selectric typewriter – yes, I remember when it was state of the art – now on whatever computer isn’t being used by my younger son to create movie videos to upload to YouTube), the words flow. Okay, they sometimes sputter, but I just type anyway, seemingly without any conscious thought. The creativity course confirmed what I had already known about my writing process.
It used to drive my undergrad math major friends crazy that I could sit at my typewriter (a manual at that time) the night before a paper was due with no outline, just a pile of books with slips of paper, and a pad of yellow legal paper with cryptic notes (some of which I couldn’t decipher) in front of me. I would then proceed to knock out the paper within a couple of hours, pass in the first draft, and get an A. But I had probably been thinking about my topic since the professor gave us the assignment, done all the reading, and made all those enigmatic notes. By the time I sat down at the typewriter, the entire paper existed in my mind. I just had to get it out of there through my fingers on the keyboard and onto the paper.
Yes, I still write that way. And, yes, I’ve written this blog entry that way.
So, back to how I have been inspired while asleep.
The other night, at about 2:00 AM, I woke up with a sentence in my head. Just one sentence. And a fairly nonsensical one, too. I’ve no idea where it came from. And I had no idea where it would lead.
For the next few hours, I tossed and turned while “what if’s” and “how about’s” filled in the blanks. By the time I fell asleep, the alarm was about to go off. I felt fairly useless at work all day, but I had a complete short story in my head.
Of course, it’s not as simple as I tell it. I plunked myself down in front of the laptop that afternoon and began typing. Fortunately, I remembered the first line. And the second. Then the rest of the story followed. Well, about half of it did anyway. At some point, I got bored, re-read what I had written, realized it wasn’t hopelessly bad, but it did need a lot of tweaking. Okay, it needed some heavy duty editing and rewriting. But at least it hadn’t gone the way of most sleep-inspired ideas, into the ether never to be retrieved again.
I haven’t looked at the story now for about a week. It needs time in the slow cooker, aka, my brain. But when I do get back to it, I know the words will be there.
UPDATE: Yes, I did get back to the story. Yes, the words – some of them anyway – were there. Yes, I finished the story. I even submitted it to a couple of short story competitions. It didn’t win, but the comments were encouraging. If it doesn’t win a contest or get published, I will probably post it here.