where do you get your ideas: Britney and me

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When people ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” the answer is as simple as “Everywhere!” — and too complex to explain without boring you out of your head.

To get ideas, you need to open yourself to the world, give yourself permission to follow your obsessions wherever they might lead you, no matter how strange or how trivial they seem at the time.

I went through a fascination with Britney Spears. I tend not to buy or read tabloids…except if Britney is on the cover. I am not proud of this. I was uneasily aware of contributing to something dark in Britney’s downward spiral. But I also knew that the stuff I was feeding my mind would surface in my fiction.

From my current standpoint of the two interrelated novels about LA that I’m writing, I can see how my fascination with Britney evolved into themes of narcissism in the culture as well as the individual and how it expresses itself. When someone asks me what one novel is about, I like to say, “It’s about narcissism and the New Hollywood” and that sounds respectable enough.

But it started with Britney.

So much of the creative process is about faith, and sometimes it feels like blind faith: that this path will lead somewhere interesting, that it will make the journey – including all those ends of nowhere – worthwhile. Not knowing where you’re headed or how you’ll get there is enough to make a strong woman procrastinate like hell.

And yet the discovery process – of connections and insights you didn’t know you were able to make, seeing how it all comes together – is one of the most remarkable aspects of writing.

You?

Where do you get your ideas?

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Dec 17, 2009
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Okay, this made me laugh, I have a rough, rough draft of a story that was inspired by Britney too. Hmmm. I wonder how many books have been inspired by Ms. Spears.

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So I’m not alone! Thank the gods. :)

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:-) Yep, you’re not alone. I’m gonna go out on a limb and reveal some of my other inspirations for stories.

1) A General Hospital love story line that ended badly (don’t they all).

2) The Puppet Masters (heinleins) meets Star Trek meets Pirates

3) A painting of a foggy valley that was occupied with horses.

I tend to start with a question that comes to me from the initial inspiration or idea. Sometimes the question is something simple like, what happened in that place, but other times it’s more of a theme type of question or bigger picture type of question and I try to answer the question via writing the book.

Right now, I got one idea in the back of my head, which actually came from contemplating the whole paranormal romance genre and popularity of vamps and werewolves. The question was what is going to be the next popular creature? I have no idea if I’m right in the image that popped into my head, but it gave me an interesting idea to explore.

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Fascinating.

I get my best ideas while driving, unfortunately, and struggle to be very disciplined about not groping around for a pen and scribbling on precariously placed parking receipts while cruising down the highway at 120 km/h. Well, either then or when I’m “supposed” to be working on school-based stuff – when I also try to be disciplined and not drop whatever I’m working on to play with my new idea-toy.

I guess that’s the when, though, not the where. Mostly I suppose I filter things in and out and when something sticks, I play with it and fumble around until I find an appropriate outlet for it.

I usually know I have an important idea if at first I don’t understand it but see it pop up in a variety of places, if my mind constantly ends up back there. Eventually, it finds enough connections with other ideas, or I’m able to unpack what it is that drew me to it in the first place, and viola! Something interesting happens.

One of my favourite quotes about ideas and writers: “You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” — Neil Gaiman.

I would add that writers not only notice when they’re doing it but, perhaps more importantly, they do something with those ideas. Like writing wonderfully interesting blogs such as this one, amongst other things ;)

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Britney’s interesting, isn’t she? Lots of archetypes at work there. It’s compelling to watch someone crack open in front of you, and also to watch the drama of sin and redemption unfold in real time. Celebrities also play with — more so than civilians, I think — the embodiment of their inner selves. They transform their bodies, hairstyles, clothing in concrete ways that are open to “reading” by the audience, mediated through the paparazzi. (You’re good at reading the body language and demeanor of the people you meet at parties. I miss those posts. Something tells me they’re not going to be appearing again in your blog, though. That was your old life.) Her shearing off her hair was so profoundly readable in this way. I pray for her, of course. Like many of them, she seems poorly equipped for surviving in the world, although people will surprise you with their resilience.

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Driving is great for coming up with ideas and relationships between ideas, so much so that I’ve been wondering if I should make “driving around for no reason” part of my creative process…I was reading recently about why that is, too: something about how concentrating on one task for an extended length of time causes us to zone out in a way that shifts us down into the creative brain waves and releases the subconscious (I think of it as the ‘undermind’).

I like what you said about noticing if your mind “ends up back there” — I think it’s important not just to pay attention to the ideas we have so much as our obsessions — it’s those ideas we return to again and again in some form or another that clearly we need to work with (otherwise they’ll plague us for the rest of our days).

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Ha. No, those posts will keep appearing, because I’ve been missing them too — I’m going to a party tonight, actually, that should make for some interesting body language. Although I *am* dealing a bit with the question of how to integrate parts of my old life into my new life, even as the new life (including new relationships, new friends) continues to evolve and find form.

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As someone whose own work has been inspired by his obsessions (and, in my case, some pretty strange obsessions at that), I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who derives inspiration from such a source. Right now, for example, I’m toiling away on a fantasy novel whose protagonist (as well as his race as a whole) was inspired by, of all things, the (admittedly highly distorted) memories I had of a rather bizarre scene of public humiliation that appeared on the old television series, “The Monkees” (and which, when I first saw it as a young ‘un, had a certain, ahem, “effect” on my developing psyche that I’m sure the show’s producers never intended. Mm yes, that’s quite enough of that!). How’s that for an odd source of inspiration?!

For a bit of fun, I’m also doing some Doctor Who fan fiction that was inspired by the tragic death of a relatively minor character from an obscure Tom Baker serial that I saw for the first time only a few years ago. As a longtime “Whovian”, I’ve witnessed a lot of deaths on that show (for this reason, I can’t believe it was considered good wholesome family entertainment for most of its run on TV!), and while I’d become thoroughly desensitized to most of them, this particular one really, REALLY bugged me (in large part because the deceased – an alien child – truly did not deserve what happened to it). It got to me so much, in fact, that it wasn’t long before I felt compelled to write something that’d avenge the character in question and do their memory justice.

Other unlikely sources of inspiration for me have been a godawful ’90s Australian soap opera called “Paradise Beach” (that I do believe was going to be exported to your part of the world, as well as various other countries; I truly hope that those plans came to naught and you were spared it!), and a thriller called “The Assignment” that was about the hunt for the notorious ’70s terrorist, Carlos the Jackal. One thing I find interesting about the sources of inspiration I’ve just mentioned is that all of them were things I’d seen on TV or in movies: media that all manner of “experts” have been claiming (for God knows how many years now) kill people’s creativity. For me, however, they’ve been just as valuable sources of inspiration as anything else (as have video games – another favourite bugbear of the aforementioned “experts” – for that matter). Like you, I get my ideas from all sorts of places!

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I like that! We take our ideas from all sorts of places, which is why I think it’s so important for a writer to watch and read and seek out anything and everything of interest, the more obscure and esoteric the better. If we just take our ideas from the same movies and TV shows and books that everybody else has read, we’ll just produce the same familiar stories….The trick is to synthesize those influences and filter them through your own sensibility and imagination so that they become something new.

I watched Dr Who when I was a kid and read the books…Those little pepper-pot robots (the Daleks?) kind of terrified me.

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