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Too Many Ideas

Or, How to Make Room for All the People That Live In Your Head

By Jennifer Colgan

I’ve been asked a number of times in the past year where I come up with my plot ideas. Some people seem to ask out of a genuine curiosity or amazement, as though, like a miner, I excavate my ideas from some deep, dark hole. I often wonder if they picture me with a pickaxe slung over my shoulder and a tin bucket in hand, dragging chunks of useless wordage out of a subterranean tunnel in an effort to uncover hidden gems. ( I sort of like the analogy, in fact. )

On the other hand, some people ask with a sense of concern, as though the shapeshifters, werewolves and well-endowed aliens that populate my imaginary worlds might pop out of my head fully formed and swallow them up. Case in point, my own mother asked recently, in a slightly disconcerted voice, “How do you know so much about vampires, anyway?” ( Research, Mom. Bwahahahaha! )

The truth of the matter actually lies somewhere in between endless and sometimes fruitless toil in the idea mine, and the strange secret lives writers live that make our friends and family members back away slowly when we get that distant look in our eyes.

If you’re like me, sometimes the ideas are there, crowded into the little-used corners of my brain, feeding on useless facts like my high school locker combination and waiting for the right moment to pounce on a meatier thought. Other times they’re sitting on the bridge of my nose, like annoying pixies, blurring the spreadsheet on my computer screen or inserting typos into the letter my boss has asked me to type and making it impossible for me to concentrate on the real world. They manifest as snippets of juicy dialogue or sudden, overwhelming emotions that belong in the heart of my latest hero or heroine. (Sometimes they’re even blog articles.)

Needless to say, it makes life difficult now and then.

If you suffer from this affliction as well, you may often have asked, how do we deal with the flood of ideas when it threatens to overwhelm us? (And when the flood narrows to a trickle – are we better off, or worse? That’s a question for another article. )

I can only offer the most basic advice. When you can’t turn it off, go with it. The best way to get a character out of your head is to put him or her (or it) on paper – quick and dirty – in shorthand if you must, to keep the curious around you from realizing your mind is not really on the task at hand.

In short, the only cure for the cluttered head is writing. Seems like a conundrum, doesn’t it? On the upside, you can fill a notebook, a drawer, even a small closet, with your ideas and when someone asks, “Where do your plots come from?” you can point to your repository and say, “Right there. But I wouldn’t look inside if I were you. A werewolf might eat you.”