So I was sitting with my son and his girlfriend over dinner late one afternoon, talking about one of my books and my greatest new idea for it, when his girlfriend looked perplexed and asked that quintessential question “Where do you get your ideas from?” Now mind you, we were sitting in a restaurant in Salem after having visited the Salem Witch Museum, and I was talking about putting more “witchiness” into one of my characters. I pretty much knew, at that point, that her “where do you get the ideas from” question wasn’t really what she was asking. In fact, I’m not sure if it is ever really what people are asking when we get that question. Probably the real question is “how do you think that way?” Politeness stops people from asking that because it seems kind of rude. But it’s not. I understand it completely. Because my answer is “How do you not think that way?”
Seriously. As much as some people seem fascinated by the machinations of the writer’s mind, I am fascinated by the brains of non writers. I was in my late thirties before I understood–really understood (in that I asked my husband)–that other people don’t have imaginary people talking in their head. When I realized that, I was flabbergasted. It has been a part of my being for so many years, I don’t know remember what it was like living without that. If I ever did.
And here’s another thing I don’t get. How do you fall asleep at night if you don’t have a story in your head? Because, see, this is what puts me to sleep. Sure for half an hour or so my brain will process the day and then process the things that are coming the following day, but not for long. That gets me wired, not sleepy. After that half an hour, I switch to a story. I let my brain drift to whatever I want to play with then, I “load” the story up, grab a scene, and let it play out in my head. After awhile, I fall asleep. Sometimes the “while” is 5 minutes. Sometimes it’s 20. On a bad night (which can also be construed as a good night in that I have great stuff to write later) it’ll be an hour or more. But one way or another, that’s what I do, every night. That’s how I’ve put myself to sleep since I was eleven or twelve. I don’t know how I’d sleep without that. I truly don’t. And I have no clue as to how other people fall asleep if they aren’t watching scenes play out in their minds.
I have had some really bad times in my writing career. I mean, it took me 17 years to get my first book published. I quit many, many times, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for months, but I always came back, mostly because of those two questions–how do you not think that way, and how do you sleep–and because I had no answers for them. If I had answers, if I knew what people thought about all day when there wasn’t characters occasionally coming forward and demanding to be heard, if I knew how people put themselves to sleep at night without having scenes running through their minds, I might have succeeded in quitting. There would be no The Wild Half or The Wild One or any of the other books past, present or future. The words, the stories, the characters are always going to be there, whether I write them or not. I don’t have a choice. But honestly, sometimes I wish I did, at least for a little while.