‘A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper’– E.B. White
‘Shut up and Write’, blared a timely and curiously aggressive poster from where I sat eating my lunch. Staring at the angry poster as I sat in my bemused state, it became obscured by a keen photographer intent on absorbing the message. Apparently, I was not the only one for whom the advice seemed pertinent.
I took the advice and began to write for a rapidly approaching deadline. Always a fan of creative writing prompts, I intended to take inspiration from a trailer for the Francis Ford Coppola movie, The Conversation. It’s the kind of seventies trailer where a resonant narrator tells you all about the protagonist and their impending troubles.
At the same time I was also immersed in research of the work of Marxist philosopher, Louis Althusser. This turned out to be an unlikely prompt that led to me to write an unconsciously Marxist draft. I won’t go into the piece here (though I will post it when I’m done) but it did highlight some interesting points for me about writers and how they form ideas.
The person I most associate with unconscious ‘ideas’ is David Lynch. If you’ve ever read an interview with David Lynch, you’ll realise that this is somewhat of a buzzword for him (I’ve included a link to one if you want to see for yourself). When discussing how he came up with the idea for the ‘red room’ scene in Twin Peaks, he said that it occurred to him when he touched the roof of a hot car . This would probably sound strange to anyone who hasn’t seen Twin Peaks, far less so for those who have. Here’s a link to the scene if you want to align it with the formulation of his idea.
Lynch is in the business of ideas; he has a book called Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity about using transcendental meditation to form ideas and ‘nurture creativity’. While it might seem difficult to get quite so wholeheartedly on board as David Lynch in the notion that ‘Ideas are like fish’ (Lynch 2007, p. 1), it certainly says something about the variety of ways that writers and artists search for inspiration.
I found a more modest response from Neil Gaiman. In an essay on his website, he details the frustration he feels by constantly being asked this question of where his ideas come from, to which he responds ‘out of my head’. While I possibly wouldn’t appreciate this answer if I were someone sincerely looking for an inspirational response, I did appreciate it for the purpose of this exercise and what it said about my unlikely Marxist prompt.
I hated the Louis Althusser readings. They were convoluted and I knew nobody was going to take to his concept like they did to feminism or video games (two extremely popular topics in my class). But somehow this was where my draft ended up- with the alienation of the worker.
There are lots of links/books/articles out there that offer ideas about what to write or how to write. Brain Pickings have excellent articles detailing advice from writers to writers ranging from Zadie Smith (my personal favourite) to Kurt Vonnegut. Ultimately, nothing is going to tell you where to get ideas if they’re not coming- so perhaps we should take the poster’s advice after all, and just ‘shut up and write’.
(Or taking David Lynch’s advice and metaphorically go fishing. Whatever works for you)
Photograph by Jade Thrupp, taken 1 June 2016