Maybe twice a week I get it. The Great Idea. In my case, I’m usually thinking in terms of a short story. I have very little in the way of plot, just a genesis of a setting, a character, or a title. It niggles at me, this Great Idea, like a distantly glimpsed nirvana. A golden land set on top of a mountain. A really big mountain. With a ladder at the summit that leads into cloud, and beyond that, some of those extra wide pyramidal steps you get on Gladiators. Part of me thinks ‘This could be the best story I’ve ever written.’ Part of me thinks ‘I must get around to writing it sometime.’
Without fail, I shelve all of my story ideas for a period. But I must admit to failing in one of the most cherished of writer traditions, namely, the Sacred Notebook of Scribbles. While I’m in awe of writers who detail dreams, thoughts, conversations, all the odds and ends of everyday life, I have a quite frankly peculiar view on the writing down of such. Call it a defence mechanism if you like, but for me, if the idea does not survive a few weeks being tossed to and fro in the slurry of my mind, it was never mine to write in the first place.
Occasionally though, I do engage a Great Idea in mortal combat – and, yes, I do see it as a battle because the writing process is brutal and bloody. Not because I’m some sort of emotional goddess, imparting hard won wisdoms on the lowly reader. Nothing as jaw-achingly pretentious, I hope. No, what I’m talking about is refusing to give in when the story decides it’s in it for the kill. Sometimes a story can stay closed to me for years, but if I make the decision that that particular plot really suits a solicited market, I load up the big guns. For me, this is one of the examples of how a writer really has to bloody love what they do in order to survive it. And every time I do survive it, I still have this sense I just got a lucky punch in.
I was at a party recently when one reveller uttered those oft repeated lines. ‘Wow, you write? That’s my perfect job. I’d love to sit at home and write for a living.’ Times like that, I remember the Great Idea and I get a cold sweat on. Yet at the same time, despite all those times I’ve stared at a screen and willed a story to play dead, I also know that I am at heart a bloodthirsty word warrior.
So, just as soon as I’ve finished writing the finale of my new book, I’m taking on one or two of the Great Ideas that’ve survived the quagmire. And this time I’m taking no prisoners.