editing · work-in-progress · writing life

On Letting Ideas Have Their Way

So, I’ve started some new writing. You might remember I hold to Joan Aiken’s adage to ‘be mean with your ideas’. But I’m not sure I’m in control after all.

I had one idea – a phrase, really; a question – that arose from nowhere but conjured both the world of Minna and Jeff in Ready to Love but also to a new universe, which exists mostly, scantly in my mind. I’ve made some notes. I’ve scribbled down some words. Typed them up. Scribbled on them. Put them away – it’s early days.

I wrote a story about that world (I published a work-in-progress on this blog), so those characters are well looked after.  I needed to let the new characters find their own voice, their own scenarios.

Of course I can make sure that happens. My new characters are a bit older with different personal circumstances. There’s an office, but it’s totally different to the building I invented on Eversholt Street near Euston Station. I can use different rhythms too. There will be a different structure. I’m not worried.

Trouble was, the voice who asked the question sounded awfully like Minna, and before I knew it Jeff had answered, and suddenly this was another new story about the old characters.

‘Let them have it,’ I decided, surrendering to the tyranny of the world which owed its existence to me but to whom I had become a mere slave.


After a page or two, I left that story and went back to the new one, just finding my way in, really.

Jan Mark never plotted in advance so she would always get to a point in a new story where she’d suddenly stop. She’d used up all she had – it was time to start adding new ingredients. (In Riding Tycho, the realisation that the world she’d created didn’t have any birds in it provided a fresh angle which allowed her to develop the story.) This always happened. She never panicked. She just wrote as much as she could until the enforced stop.

Jan didn’t see the bump coming and nor did I but the weird thing was – yes, quite without my realising it – that the words at which I ground to a halt ended with The Question. Minna’s question, only this time, Jeff wasn’t there to answer it.

It sounded different, too. As if it would lead elsewhere, to an entirely different conclusion. And soon after, I heard the voice of the person who might answer it. She was much angrier than Jeff would ever be. I liked that. And I sort of know what the answer will be and what the ramifications of that exchange might be.

(A sort of plot, in other words.)

And then, something else occurred to me, which eased my anxieties about writing the same thing over and over again (which we’ve already worried about). It’s something I learnt from Jan, of course. Often, the kernel of an idea that inspires a story quietly exits the book by the final draft. The book, on its own two feet, doesn’t need it – even if the author once did.

So the question might leave my new book, to replaced by others – more pressing, more infuriating, more aggressive, more antagonistic. I hope so! It sounds fun. I’ll let you know.

How are your new ideas shaping up? Are you keeping them reined in until you trust them a bit more or are you throwing caution to the wind and letting rip?

writing by hand

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