When I pictured myself blogging about writing, I never imagined I would write about where ideas come from. Why should I? Everyone does, and everyone says the same thing: Ideas come from anything and everything. They come from books and movies and things you witness on the street and scraps of information in the newspaper or a textbook and anywhere else you can think of. Be observant, everyone says, pay attention to the world around you, even eavesdrop on other people’s conversations, and voila! You have an idea. The point is, as 2011 Alpha guest David Levine told us, “Ideas are like neutrinos—they shoot down from space and you just have to be dense enough to stop one.”
So I never pictured myself writing about it, because I honestly don’t have anything new to add to the conversation. I have not, much to my chagrin, found a secret well of ideas or a failsafe method to find inspiration for that novel that you just know you have inside you. What I mostly have is a testimonial to the bizarre way our minds work and the truth to the fact that ideas are all around us and we just have to know where to look.
A week ago, if someone were to ask me where I got the idea for my current project—what I’ll call the memory wiping academy novel for simplicity’s sake—I would have listed a collection of books and TV shows that mushed together to influence the book. The Hunger Games, Never Let Me Go, Hogwarts, and River from Firefly are just a few. My dentist’s office would not have been on that list.
To give you some necessary information, in the novel, the students in the academy have their memories routinely wiped by an ear-piercing screeching sound produced by brightly colored rooms. A week ago, I assumed that the idea had come from somewhere, but I didn’t know exactly where. My fear of surgery and the Spongebob episode with the padded yellow room might be factors, as well as my desire to find something that was thematically connected to my protagonist’s affinity for music. But then I went to the dentist. As I was sitting in the waiting room, reading my Italian history book and waiting for my name to be called, a hygienist came out and called a little girl, and as she got up, the hygienist said, “You’ll be in the yellow room today, honey.” My immediate instinct was to jump up, grab the little girl, and protect her from the horrible fate that awaited her in the yellow room. It’s funny now, but I was seriously freaked out then, and a few minutes later, as I was being led to the white room, I honestly felt like I was going to scream. Right then, I was positive that this was where the idea for my colorful memory wiping rooms came from. At some point, my subconscious stored the idea of the new colored rooms at the pediatric dentist’s office, and when I was looking for a way to wipe my characters’ memories, it presented this to me.
I’ve been thinking about it all week, and at this point, I honestly don’t know if I originally got the idea from the dentist’s office or if I’ve just recontextualized the yellow room or the white room so thoroughly that I caused myself to have that reaction. There’s no way to prove it now, but it is a distinct possibility that the dentist’s office did give me the idea, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. Ideas are like neutrinos. But how do we become dense enough to stop them? If the dentist really was my inspiration, how come I didn’t realize it then? How can I become more open to the world so that I can not just absorb potential ideas to use at a later date but recognize that I am doing so? And if ideas are so prevalent, I guess the question becomes not so much how do you get one, but how do you know what’s worth using? And then how do you use it?
I’m certainly not the only one to consider this, and I don’t have any answers. There are books upon books about the craft of writing, how to get inspiration, how to turn your idea into a story, and then how to write that story. I’ve been writing for years, so I have plenty of experience, but I’m obviously no expert. I didn’t even want to start blogging about writing with ideas, but then I had one, and I just had to write about it, which seems to be how it works. But after my experience at the dentist’s, I’m interested in further exploring this path from subconscious absorption of ideas to a full story. Right now though, all I can say for sure is that I’m switching dentists.
(Title quote: “My Shiny Teeth and Me”)