How to encourage the germ of an idea

The last pages were revised again and finally the novel went out on submission. I celebrated by reorganizing my office… adding a bookshelf donated by a family member (who gives away bookcases???) and clearing off my desk. Meanwhile, the smidgeon of a new idea was beginning to germinate.

Like most of my novels-in-the-making, it began with a recurring image. I mulled over its meaning, its potential, and acknowledged growing enthusiasm. But it wasn’t at the word-spilling stage quite yet. It needed encouragement.

On the weekend I took my camera and wandered down to my quiet place… the marsh at the west end of our property. It’s a good place to do some thinking.

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There’s been a lot written about the plotting, writing, revising and submitting processes, but not much about pre-writing. Creativity doesn’t happen by itself. Great ideas don’t appear at our bidding and leap onto a page. They need an environment conducive to their development.

Last spring I posted about a different trip to the marsh. That day greens filled with seasonal newness inspired me. I followed Julia Cameron’s suggestion to “stand a little outside the flow of hurried time” and declared an hour off limits from the demands of the day, hoping to be inspired by “whispers of the divine”.

The marsh presented a different face this time. The only greens were in faithful hemlocks, spruce and cedar and the ever-defiant salal. Fog hovered over frosted gold and brown, and the water waited beneath fragile ice. It wasn’t cold out. In the sunshine it was almost ten degrees celsius, but chill settled into shadowy places with shivery persistence.

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No billows of pristine snow beautified winter’s barren branches and lifeless weeds. The only beauty was in the still brilliance of Saturday’s sunshine. I breathed deeply. Not a single bird distracted. I let an idea percolate.

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Back indoors I reached for my pen and journal. Rather than scribble a too-frequent litany of what I’d seen, I wrote what I had felt… what the stillness infused. It was free writing… nothing to do with the story-building image, but those tumbling thoughts triggered excitement.

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Like a seed, the idea has split open and a sprout is emerging. I don’t fully recognize it yet — it will need to develop more — but words are whispering. There’s rustling in the underbrush of a story waiting to grow.

A question for fellow writers: how do your new ideas come to you?

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