Giving Birth

Wow, was there ever a lot of talk this week about meteors and asteroids! It’s a good thing too, because I was in need of an idea for my post for this week. “What?!”, you say, “How can you possibly tie meteors and asteroids into a column about writing?” It’s a good question and one that I intend on answering.

  • First we get a meteor over Russia travelling at 54,000 km/h (that’s 15 kilometres [9 miles] every SECOND), and exploding over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The shock wave created as this thing entered our atmosphere took almost 30 seconds to reach the ground, and when it did it shattered windows, damaged buildings, and injured over 1,000 people.

  • Then, just a few hours later and asteroid slightly larger than a Space Shuttle came from the south and at a distance of 28,000 km zipped between the International Space Station and a ring of weather satellites. I’m not sure I can put that into perspective. It’s 1/10 the distance to the Moon. It passed INSIDE satellites WE put in space to monitor the weather. Astronomically speaking, that’s about as close a shave as you can get.

Two completely unrelated events happening on the same day, both involving chunks of rock from space, and both causing quite a stir here on Earth. For some, these are the types of occurrences that spawn science fiction books or fantastical Hollywood blockbuster movies. For me, these are the types of types of occurrences that make me wonder where I get my ideas.

I can’t figure out where my ideas come from, and there are times when it feels like I might never get another one that’s worth sharing.

The idea for my current (and first) novel took more than a decade to form and started out as something completely different. It evolved slowly over time with the strongest and most adaptable pieces carrying on to the next generation. It changed from a film about one thing, to a short story about something else, back to a film about something close to the first thing, to a novel about that thing, to a novel about something completely different. The original film idea now sits on a shelf waiting to be fertilized and will probably be birthed as my third novel.

Other ideas of mine seem to be created out of thin air. I have a short story/novella idea that came to me when I was staring at the walls of an elevator. Hey, I thought, I think this would make a great short story. Something kind of Twilight Zone-ish with a feel similar to Ayn Rand’s “Anthem”. I got a bit of help with this one from a friend later that night, but 90% of this idea had formed in the 30 seconds it took to ride up 1 floor.

The idea for what will probably become my second novel came to me while listening to Metallica in my car on the way to work. It was just one scene that played in my head throughout the duration of the song “Nothing Else Matters” (which happens to be one of my favourite Metallica tunes). It was the most disturbing thought I’ve ever had, and within minutes I had created several main characters and a plot, pulling ideas from some well-known religious nut jobs, cultists, psychopaths, sociopaths, and serial killers.

It would appear that I don’t lean toward any one “method” for coming up with ideas but I have noticed a few things:

  1. I get more ideas when I’m left alone
    Whether it’s as I’m falling asleep, or when I’m in the shower, or driving to work in the car, or alone in elevators, my brain needs a certain amount of isolation to work its magic. I don’t think I’m alone in this regard, but there are definitely people whose ideas come out of brainstorming with others – a sort of “think tank” mentality. This is definitely not me. My work even tends to be of higher quality when it’s just me in a room with white noise pumping through my headphones.
  2. My ideas get better when I involve other people

    While I have a harder time working with others to come up with ideas, the ones I get (that I like) only get better as I bounce them off other people. Certainly the four ideas I mentioned above have only improved since I shared them (or bits and pieces of them) with some of the great minds I happen to know.

  3. I can’t force ideas to appear

    Much like a baby, I can’t guarantee its arrival. I need an idea – now! very quickly becomes I got nuthin’. Just the right set of circumstances and the right chemical reactions are needed to bring my ideas to life and as soon as I start to force them out they dry up and I’m left with nothing but cobwebs and tumbleweeds. 

So, what works for you? Where do your ideas come from? Do they come out of nowhere and fall from the sky like a meteor (minus the exploding over Russia), or are they slowly cultivated over time; nurtured, pampered, brought into the world and given life? Are they a product of isolation and solitude or do they bounce around and off others like a stray particle seeking a cosmic partner.

If all the conspiracy talk after recent meteor/asteroid events are any indication, there is no imagination shortage out there, that’s for sure. Now if only we can get Hollywood to step up and give us something original; because even with rocks falling from the sky what we’re really missing is something with a deep impact.


2 thoughts on “Giving Birth

  1. Elise Stephens

    I like how your ideas come from anywhere–news stories are a great source of scary material! I can completely empathize with how ideas form best in isolation, but then grow better with discussion. (Of course, it's a small, trusted circle of friends who get to hear my ideas that are still in formation, since it's still a tender thing!) The one part that I differ with you on is that I can't force in idea. It's true that I can never predict when they come, but I've found I have to be disciplined about sitting down to try to come up with material, because I can't be consistent if I wait too much on inspiration to strike. Then again, it depends on what each of us is setting out to create every day. I often will write to a word count per day, and this forces a huge quantity on me, which leaves me begging for ideas to come all the time. 🙂 Good post!

  2. Andrew F. Butters

    Thanks for stopping by Elise. I draw up a word count schedule but never keep it! I've been worried a couple times that I was going to come up short with a post idea but so far I haven't missed a week. Hopefully I can keep it up. Here's hoping your ideas flow freely 🙂


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