A new idea I learned from him recently is what I now call: the lump theory. More of that in a moment. The first thing he said that stuck with me in this particular lecture is this: “A notebook is the best way to immortalise bad ideas.” I’ve always kept a notebook. It’s how I remember things, ideas, snippets, book titles I have no book for yet, pictures, concepts, anything that has triggered an chain of thoughts in my mind. I use physical notebooks but I also have a Word document in the documents folder of my computer that I add to constantly with links to articles or anything that has made me look, made me stop and then made me ask, what if? How could the great Stephen King tell me I’ve been doing it wrong all this time?
I let his reality sit with me for a few days. I realised I never search through the notebooks for ideas. I write what’s nagging me, what’s at the front of my brain and jumping up and down screaming, “Me next!” I don’t open that Word document other than to add to it. I don’t read what I’ve put there and I don’t search through the links. I just add more ideas and go away. Okay, so maybe Mr King has a point. Notebooks are perhaps the best way to immortalise bad ideas, because if I needed them, if they were any good, I’d be going through them and taking inspiration from the pages, right? Then I remembered reading something about Roald Dahl, another of my literary heroes. He kept a notebook. This was a sketching type, with no lines, no constrictions, and he did just what I did, write down lines, words, titles, sketch things, adding to it over time. Okay, I’m on the fence again. Maybe it’s one of those things where you do what’s best for you personally? Everyone is different after all.
But then Stephen King said something I found very interesting. To paraphrase: He explained how if you were to put breadcrumbs in a strainer and shake, all this stuff that isn’t very big and isn’t very important falls out. But the good stuff stays, the big pieces stay.
So why did I find this interesting? Because he’s right, so much so that I’m debating throwing away all my old notebooks and deleting the idea documents on my computer. Put all your idea in a strainer and start shaking. Keep doing this for a few years. Have a look inside occasionally to see what’s there, what’s too big to fall through the holes. What’s left in my strainer are the ideas that refuse to leave me alone. The ones that whisper to me at night, the ones I think about when I’m half asleep getting my chemo. The ones that keep bugging me for years and years and never fall through the holes in the strainer. This is the lump theory.
Stolen was one of those ideas that took root in my mind and never let go. I think I first made notes about it more than ten years ago. Possible titles were Fifty Words for Snow (each chapter was to be inspired by Inuit names for snow, matching the snow type to the mood of my main character), The Stolen Life of Mandy Brown came next, and then eventually the book name became simply Stolen. I changed the name of the main character to Emily Jenkins and the original span of time the book would encompass went from over three years to just under a year. What originally was a story of unthinkable abuse became a story of survival. But the essence of the tale stayed, the feeling I wanted to evoke with my words remained. Stolen was one of those lumps that refused to fall through the holes of the strainer. The idea stayed with me, slowly growing until earlier this year when I sat down thinking I was going to write something entirely different and Stolen forced its way onto the page.
Am I going to throw my dusty notebooks away? Am I going to delete my many Word documents with forgotten ideas? No… not yet, anyway. They are a comfort blanket to me. I have a queue in my mind of ideas waiting patiently (and some not so patiently) for their turn on the keyboard. Stolen is now in the editing stage, hopefully to be released before the end of the year. In the meantime, please enjoy this preview of the wonderful cover Jane Dixon-Smith made for me.
And remember to watch out for those writerly lumps and don’t sweat the stuff you’ve forgotten. If you seem unable to remember an idea, chances are it never would come to anything, anyway. Instead scoop out those juicy lump ideas and gorge on them!
You can see the Stephen King lecture that inspired this post here.