Last weekend I had the supreme pleasure of touring around Georgia with four other authors, all of whom are tremendously talented. As a group, the five of us write in genres ranging from women’s fiction to paranormal romance to romantic suspense. We signed in several towns at different stores, hosting a publishing question and answer session at each stop. Inevitably a few questions arose repeatedly, and one most of all: where do you get your story ideas from?
I found it interesting that each of us had slightly different methods of arriving at the same place—but the one constant was that we couldn’t seem to turn off our minds. Our writerly imaginations were always in motion, forever wandering off on some story trail. For me, I can say that from as early as age six I’ve been making up stories to put myself to sleep, to escape from anxiety, to relieve boredom or simply because I can’t help doing so. At some point I figured out I could start writing those stories down, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As authors, this is our greatest legacy, the power of our imaginations. But for some of us—myself, my clients (I’m an agent by profession)—I’ve noticed that this very gift can also be our undoing. So capable of spinning tales in our minds, it’s only one more step to concoct any terrible scenario that might befall our careers. Haven’t heard from your editor about the new manuscript yet? Of course not! She obviously hates it and can’t even put her thoughts into words. (Actuality: the editor’s boss just handed her a rush edit, so she got sidetracked.)
That option proposal sitting on the publisher’s desk for more than a week? You already know the truth, she’s not going to let your editor offer on it. In fact, they’ve already found their next “you.” (Actuality: the publisher has been on a two week cruise and doesn’t even know your editor passed the material her way.)
And as for that book of your heart that hits shelves in three months? Well, easy enough to see the bad side of that one. Four other authors share the same pub date, and you’re already certain that readers will buy those four, not you. (Actuality: those writers are just as worried about their own sales.)
I’m sure you get my point here. As writers our minds weave intricate, involved tapestries, and not just with the written word. We’re equally adept at spinning imaginary fears into real life roadblocks as we look at various angles of our careers when, in fact, we should be focusing our creative energies on the books themselves. Not just that, but the most insidious form of this “disease” comes in the form of writing anxiety, that gut-numbing fear that hits when you sit down in front of the laptop. The niggling thought that for some reason, today the words won’t show up, the work won’t flow.
The more I talk to authors, the more I realize that we’re almost all prone to such fears, whether at the beginning of a new work (the last one was so shiny-perfect when you put it to bed, the new one is so raw) or the beginning of a work day. The answer, I’ve found—continue to find—is to just buckle up and shove past that wall. To write something. Anything. But to write. Funnily enough, each time I do that, the words do show up. The familiar fears fade into the background. And oftentimes? The magic appears.
My imagination really does show up, and instead of supplying a hundred possible fears, it provides its richest, most wonderful aspect… an imaginary world. And I’m thankful, so thankful, that I decided I could take all the crazy tales and dialogue and people in my mind and just put them on the page.