The imagination room
Where do you keep your ideas for stories? Maybe you have the scratched on pieces of paper in a box, scribbled in a notebook, or in a
file on your smartphone or Mac. Maybe, just maybe, you have it lurking somewhere in your imagination like something you can almost see from the corner of your eye — and if you turn your head really fast, it’ll be gone. If you’re lucky, maybe you already know what story you want to tell.
For years, I’ve kept notebooks where I jot down ideas for stories — random thoughts, thumbnail synopses, little character portraits, and
inciting incidents that could spark a story. Sometimes I have just a title I like but with no story to go with it. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
I like to think of this book as my imagination room and everyone and everything is welcome. From vampires to small-town farm girls, from big Hollywood plots to quiet little stories, I write it all down without judging it or over analysing it. Some ideas are silly; others are exciting or at least have the possibility of being exciting. But they’re all there — like a bag of Liquorice All Sorts or a bar filled with cocktail mixes. I’m glad I’ve kept this book next to my bedside. If you haven’t started a notebook like this, it might be a good idea to start one and fill it up as you go along.
Picking a puppy — or a cat
I have friend who owns a Cornish Rex, a sinuous, beautiful, hairless breed of cat. He loves cats but is allergic to them so this is the only breed he can have around. It’s the same with choosing a novel as your project — it has to be a project that you can live with for a whole year. More than that, it has to be something you can love for a lifetime. (In fact, I think I’ll have a Cornish Rex somewhere in my novel. Why not?)
What kinds of characters fascinate you? I’m drawn to obsessive characters living compromised lives — dark or funny stories, or both.
I like beautiful but broken characters. Driven by their desperate desires or haunted by secret dreams. The characters that fascinate me have a psychology behind their sexuality; it’s tied up with their identity or lack of identity.
If I look at the stories I’ve published, most revolve around three themes: sexuality, obsession, identity. And I used this as a filter for the ideas in my notebook — because I knew stories with these elements would excite me and (hopefully) keep me excited about a project for the whole year. I finally found one through process of elimination. Have you found yours?
Find the thread — and keep your place
Basically, it’s the story of an engaged couple who decide they need some excitement in their relationship. They pick up a young man at a
club and invite him back to their apartment for a threesome — not knowing that behind his placid and beautiful exterior lies an unbalanced personality. This one impulsive invitation causes their seemingly perfect existence to unravel.
That’s all I know about the story. It’s not a clear and complete formed novel — it’s just a sliver. It’s a thread. It’s a start, that’s all I need for now, and perhaps it’s all you need to start for now too. Just make sure it’s as clear and interesting as you can make it right now.
On a December night in the middle of a heat wave in Johannesburg, I was wrapping presents for my nephew. I was struggling to find
the beginning of a roll of sticky tape. In the heat, I was irritable and was about to give up — but I finally found the seam and made damn sure I didn’t lose the start by folding over the end the tape to keep it from sticking down again. It’s the same with my story. You can only do it one strip at a time; the most important thing is to find the beginning.
For this project, I’ve taken a simple manila folder and kept all my notes for it inside. This will make sure I don’t have to hunt for my notes when I’m writing. Where will you keep all your notes?
Timelock – 60 Minutes
To find an idea for my novel, I set myself a time limit of an hour before bedtime.
Write down 10 ideas for a novel on a sheet of paper. Scratch out every option that doesn’t excite you. If you’re left with two or
three, toss them in a hat — and choose one.
Keep a small notebook at your desk or your bag — jot down further ideas during the day.
Let go of your perfectionism or procrastination — you have to knit some bad sweaters before you design that award-winning designer
Read a few passages of your favourite novel or a book on writing to inspire you — there are also some great clips on YouTube.
Put up a calendar behind your door and mark each day you work on your novel.
Pin it, quote it, believe it:
‘Art is when you hear a knocking from your soul — and you answer.’ ~Terry Guillemets
Look out for the second instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year next week.
If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course.
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