Kelly writes about the interplay between you, the writer, and your subconscious, which she calls her “Silent Partner”.
Your Silent Partner doesn’t discriminate between the good, the bad, the ugly, and the odd. That’s your job. When you reject certain kinds of ideas, Wilhelm says, the S.P stops supplying them. If you are too picky, and turn up your nose at all of the ideas that are coming from your subconscious, eventually the S.P stops offering any at all. When you begin to recognize certain kinds of ideas as useful and welcome, Wilhelm suggests that you stop and offer positive reinforcement. That is, think to yourself, “Yes, that’s a terrific idea. More like that, please, S.P.” — and the S.P will begin to produce more and more ideas of these fruitful and generative kinds of ideas. As you begin to recognize the kind of ideas that are going to turn into the kind of stories that you want most to write, your subconscious gets even better at fine-tuning the kind of things it provides, as well as faster at giving you useful material.
She suggests writing down a list of ideas, images, themes, things, and topics–as general or as specific as you like–in which you are interested and enjoy reading in other people’s fiction. You can see her list at the link; I’ve decided to write my own quick (and definitely incomplete) compilation below.
- Characters at that age of awakening, i.e. thirteen-fifteen-ish
- Precocious children
- Coming of age stories
- Natural phenomena, like sun dogs, blue holes, and the disaster at Lake Nyos
- Natural, wild spaces like the ocean (tides, deep sea fissures) and outer space (stars, galaxies, planets)
- Deep sea fish and other strangely featured creatures
- Horrific, dramatic, and strange accidents/suicides/deaths
- Queer women and their relationships with men, and with each other
- Moths, fireflies (most insects and other creepy crawlies, really), and birds
- Sexual frustration
- The natural world/landscapes
- Items that have varieties with spectacular names (e.g. fireworks have shapes called willows, dahlias, horsetails, time rain, cake, spiders…)
- Bodies of water
- Supernatural events in ordinary settings (e.g. a biblical-style apocalypse in a small, Midwestern town)
I already use this technique, in a way. After reading Susan Wooldridge’s poemcrazy, I started keeping large glass fishbowls full of words and phrases (written on small paper tickets), and recently began adding index cards with larger images/ideas. (Just added yesterday: “a fat moth being held by its powdery wing between pinched index fingers, its large body beating frantically back and forth, tossed into the twilight through a slit in the dirty screen door”.) I can see how some writers might find this technique silly or gimmicky, but it’s been enormously helpful to me in keeping track of my ideas, and reminding me what it is that I enjoy writing about. And seeing everything laid out in front of you can also be helpful when thinking about plot and setting. When I’m stuck, helping look at these images and ideas will often help unstick me.
Something else neat that Kelly also touches on briefly in her post is something that I talked about earlier this week–working in bits and fragments, or having partial story ideas that sometimes meld with other story ideas. It’s always nice to realize that someone else understands your process.