by Hannah Beckerman
Since publishing my debut novel a few months ago, there’s one question I’ve been asked more than any other:
The truthful – albeit not very helpful – answer is that I don’t know exactly know. I suspect most writers would say the same: I doubt many (if any) writer would say there was a process or formula for coming up with ideas. What I do think, though, is that there are ways to make yourself more receptive to a story being born.
1) Find a subject that interests you. And I mean really interests you. Because once you hook onto a subject for a book, you’re going to be spending a long time with it. Possibly years. So you have to be sure your relationship with it can stand the test of time. It might be a particular period in history or a philosophical idea, a type of relationship or a news story. Whatever it is, it’ll be like an itch on your brain that won’t go away until you give it a bit more attention.
2) Be nosey. Very nosey. I’m most interested in the nuances of human relationships so a lot of my ideas come from listening to other people and being fascinated about their lives. Turn up the volume on all those conversations: heart-to-hearts with your lovelorn best friend, deep-and-meaningfuls with your mum, all those snippets of conversation you overhear on the bus or around the office or in the pub. It’s a cliche but truth is invariably stranger than fiction.
3) Create time to think. I don’t mean whisk yourself off to the shores of Lake Geneva and cradle your head in your hands, pondering the meaning of life. But find something/somewhere that gives you the time and space to turn the germ of an idea into a story. In my experience, that’s rarely sitting in front of your computer screen wondering when you might start typing your first sentence. For me, it’s long showers, long walks, long runs and long nights of insomnia. I wouldn’t recommend the last of those if you can possibly help it.
4) Another cliche but it’s imperative: scribble everything down. I’m terrible at abiding by this and there are many times I remember there was something brilliant I’d overheard that I meant to write down but I forgot and now it’s lost forever. Notebook, phone app, back of a supermarket receipt: it really doesn’t matter where – just scribble!
5) Know when it’s time to part company with an idea: sometimes you’ll have a great idea and think about it for ages. You might even start writing it. But occasionally something just doesn’t click. Knowing when an idea isn’t working (and when to give up on it) is as important as knowing when to stick with something that’s proving tricky.
Everything I’ve ever written has started out as the tinniest snippet of something that very easily could have disappeared into the ether. Turn up the volume on everything around you and you’ll be amazed at how many ideas are out there just waiting for you to transform them into stories.
Hannah Beckerman is the author of The Dead Wife’s Handbook, published earlier this year by Penguin. Follow her on Twitter at @hannahbeckerman or visit her website: www.hannahbeckerman.com. If you’ve enjoyed her book, send her a tweet – it’ll brighten her day!