Towards the end of last year, I finished two major projects I had been working on for ages, a short story collection and a poetry collection. I finished them to a stage where only minor changes were needed.1 These sprawling ideas I had been carrying around in my head, my notebook and several disparate files suddenly existed as completed manuscripts.
So I come again to a blank page, with little idea of how to fill it. I have nothing major on the horizon and no particularly significant ideas. But I’ve been before. I know my way around this territory. I’m putting my trust in a process and expecting results.
I’ve started writing again in short stretches, ten or fifteen-minute bursts. I start with a word or phrase and see if I can get anything of interest in that time. Writing prompts are especially helpful for this as the germ of an idea is already in the asking.2. The spark file 3 I keep in my documents and old notebooks provide slithers of speech and ideas, the merest specs. In these writing times, I try to expand on the idea and try to push it beyond the obvious. Once I’ve dedicated a tiny amount of time to it, I might want to continue it. I might not. A story might suggest itself to me in the words, a promise of something new. Those are the ones worth pursuing. If the idea starts to recur when I’m doing other things, then it’s probably worth expanding out further. Maybe into a full story.
Writing like this feels like casting hundreds of lines into an ocean and only getting a couple of bites. Or else it feels like scrabbling around in the dirt for hours to find a tiny speck of gold. But it’s the only way I know how to generate new projects that I’m excited about. You write around an idea, building and adding and expanding until suddenly it’s a book.
This is where ideas come from- other ideas. In my experience, there’s no short-cuts to this, you just have to write and experiment until you find something that feels right. I haven’t got there yet, but I’m enjoying the process. Without a set plan, I am entrusting my next writing moves to my subconscious.
Whenever I start again, I feel like a newbie. There are times when I feel like I’ve never wielded a pen before. That’s why this stage is so exciting, as there are infinite possibilities and directions to take writing. It’s good to be a newbie, because then you can explore and find out more.
So here’s to the next thing, whatever it may be.
They aren’t available yet. Publishing is a whole different mode to writing. But all the writing is done. ↩
Tim Clare’s newsletter has been very helpful. ↩
A very long text file I’ve kept of ideas and phrases that has no editing. More information here from Steven Johnson, who popularised the concept. ↩