A few years ago, I was lucky enough to have Margo Lanagan as a tutor at Clarion South. Rumours of Margo’s famous “words not to use” list were proven true (the list included things like ‘crystalline’ and ‘iridescent’, and now I can’t see either of these words without thinking of Margo) and her passion for writing was (and still is) infectious.
This year, Adelaide Writers Week has been dedicated to Margo, which is not only incredibly exciting but also completely deserved. Reading even a snippet of Sean William’s dedication explains why:
Her body of work is extensive: fifteen novels, fifty short stories, and four highly acclaimed short story collections, White Time, Black Juice, Red Spikes and Yellowcake. She is the winner of multiple Aurealis, Ditmar and World Fantasy awards, as well as the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Award for Young Adult Fiction. Her work has been nominated for the Sturgeon, Stoker, Tiptree, International Horror Guild, Locus, Shirley Jackson, Children’s Book Council, Hugo, Nebula, Commonwealth Writers Prize, alongside the Queensland and New South Wales’ Premier’s Awards. It is a list that aptly describes the diversity of her readership.
On top of all this talent, Margo is an absolutely lovely person and generous with her time and advice. For this week’s Tuesday Therapy, she shares some tips on fostering ideas and letting them grow:
Let your idea cook. I make notes for short stories on sticky notes or in notebooks. Each note is maybe an attractive halfof an idea – for example, “People buying silence in a can, jar, pill, or just downloading some.” Usually I still need a central character and situation. Having chosen a story to begin on, I carry this half-idea around with me, and it becomes my daydreaming material. I escape to it, idly look at it and like it, toss it from hand to hand and push it around whenever I’ve got a spare minute. Then when other business takes over, I move on from it, but at the next daydream opportunity, there it is with all its possibilities coming to life around it.
This is so, so true. We can get so caught up in getting the words down, getting the story out the door, because so much of the world is now, now, now that you forget that ideas take time. If someone as brilliant as Margo works like this, it’s a lesson for us all to take on.
So this means that there’s hope for my Zombie story that has been percolating for 6 months. 🙂
Aw, Nicole. 🙂
Absolutely, Sean. It now has the depth and relevance you’ve been searching for. Pick it up and run with it!
I ended up following this advice for my current project by accident.
A great idea bubbled up in fall 2010 but I was still knee-deep in another WIP. So I would spend a little time here and there developing the idea–first the theme, then the world, then the people–and the idea was cemented over the course of about 7 months, as I finished drafting the WIP. I think that long gestation time was integral in its formation. First and foremost, the whole story feels well connected, because I spent all that extra time lining things up, placing interesting characters in the background to eventually bubble up, coloring in details. But it’s also helped with pacing and characterization.
Time spent with an idea is something you can’t replace or fake; for me, it’s that time spent driving home from work, as I listen to music and stare at other people in their cars… that’s when I find myself shouting, “Of COURSE that character does that! How did I not see that before!”
Good news, considering I still have a novel idea from the 80s bubbling on a back burner.