Indie Inspiration

Indie Inspiration: How Do You Get Your Ideas?

Sooner or later writers get asked, “So, how do you get your ideas?”

It’s not my favorite question, though I like hearing it a whole lot better than this gem:
“I’d like to write, I just don’t know how to find the time.” Oh Christ.
Let’s get back to how one gets one’s ideas.

It’s a puzzling question in some ways and what often pops into my mind in response is, “Who cares? What difference does it make?” I never say that, even though it could also easily be asked of someone who doesn’t write, volleyed back to the person who asked. I don’t know man, how do you get your ideas?

How does anyone?

Recently I read a wonderful book by Erik Larson called Thunderstruck. It interweaves the true stories of Edwardian London murderer Hawley Harvey Crippen, and wireless inventor Guglielmo Marconi. This a real life historical ripping yarn, complete with illicit love, sex, and a murderer pursued across the Atlantic. Yet it wasn’t Crippen’s story I found myself riveted by; it was Marconi’s.
He invented wireless communication; in that sense he is the great grandfather of your cell phone, and he did it almost in a vacuum, because no one else had thought to conduct sparks for the purpose of communication.

A few months later myself and Ardent partner Chris Comrie were discussing Steve Jobs being the subject of recent documentaries. Suddenly I wanted to see them. I did, and I was dissatisfied by the portraits of late-in-life Jobs as iPod and iPhone man. So we watched earlier documentaries on Jobs and Bill Gates and a couple of biopics as well. “Why the sudden frenzy to immerse yourself in early Silicon Valley?” Chris wanted to know.

I hadn’t realized I appeared obsessed, but I knew I didn’t want the hero worship version of their biographies. In attempting to explain to Chris that what I was interested in was what those guys were like in their garages in the 1970s, when Jobs and Steve Wozniak were fiddling with transistors and chips, I realized what I was really fascinated by and what had been occupying my thoughts since reading about Marconi in Thunderstruck: how it was it that these people had made giant leaps forward in their thinking, and the nature of creative thought.

all these words already floating around out there, and all I had to do was reach out and grab them…

In the past, when asked about my own writing, at times I had given a flip answer along the lines of there being all these words already floating around out there, and all I had to do was reach out and grab them.

It was flippant, but it feels like there’s truth to it.

Pure scientists didn’t like Marconi. He wasn’t a scientist, nor did he identify himself as one, rather he was a ‘practitioner’. This is someone who had an idea – in his case sending and receiving signals – and was utterly focused on making it work, and tried as many different ways to achieve that and improve upon it as was necessary.

I believe it’s the same way in production. It is not scientific theory, it is practice, we are practitioners. When I finish a script, although it is a finished script, readable and ‘produce-able’, it is not the finished script. Through The Cygnet Theatre Company and Ardent Pictures we produce our own work, so there is often a kind of workshop environment surrounding production. We start with table reads, during which I listen and make notes, so if I think something needs revision, I revise it. When scenes are put on their feet for the first time, if I think changes are required, I make them. An actor might bring something to his or her performance that sparks something for me, so I may cut, change or even add a scene based on their approach to a role.

Thunderstruck. Lightning bolt. Sparks.

There are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, and all I have to do is put them in the right order.

So. How do you get your ideas?


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