There are these questions I get a lot as a writer.
“What do you write?”
“Do you actually make any money at this?”
“How do you have the time?”
Blah. I don’t mind answering any of these questions, but honestly, they bore me. They’re so obvious. So unoriginal. These questions are placeholders. I have this theory that talking to a writer is akin to talking to an alien for most people. They just don’t know what to say to us. They can’t imagine what on earth our lives are like or what they have in common with someone who sits in a room in a smoking jacket, swilling two-day old coffee and murmuring to themselves about philosophy and Shakespeare. Or maybe we wear high heels and silk dressing gowns and drink wine while imagining hulking, naked, wealthy tycoons on horseback. That’s the thing. THEY JUST DON’T KNOW. So they don’t know what to say to us.
I’m not offended. It’s pretty funny, actually, because I know the truth. I know the coffee is hot from the Keurig and I may or may not brush my hair before 2pm. But sometimes, to be honest, I make stuff up. Stuff like how I write on trains crossing North Africa, or in bohemian apartments in Paris. Or maybe I only write twice a year when I’m on a yacht in the Caribbean. Or I can’t volunteer in my child’s classroom because I’m living amongst monks, finishing my next novel. Or I’m too weak to bring snacks for the little league team because I’ve totally been fasting for weeks, eating only banana leaves until the muse comes to me.
Okay, okay. None of this has any bearing on the reality of my writing journey. At. All. (Think preschool parking lots, Costco, my closet floor, leftovers, etc) But I know these questions don’t really matter because no one bats an eye, no matter how I answer them. The most passionate reaction I might get to my zany responses is a mildly doubtful, vaguely Valley Girl, “Seriously?”
But there’s this one question I love. It is the best question, a sincere question. When I get this question, I know I’m meeting another alien, another seeker. This question comes at me differently, and if you’re a writer I bet you get it, too. The person asking will often lean in just a little. This question is a great skeleton key, slipping into a mysterious lock. It’s what’s inside that wardrobe in the attic. It’s the invisible ink that shines in moonlight. The secret language we storytellers speak only to one another. Ready? Do you know what it is?
Where do you get your ideas?
Ahhh. See there? Doesn’t that thrill you just a little? How I love this question for so many reasons! I love it for all it reveals in me. And in the one who is asking. And I have the answer always ready.
The same place as you.
BAM! POW! SHAZAM! All the comic book sound effects apply to this moment. Eyes meet. Recognition zings. Alien recognizes alien.
This question is about you, the writer, but also about the one who asks it. It’s about what connects us all, the true secrets of the storyteller. But beyond that, it’s about identity. It’s about a person who wants the answers for themselves because they know somewhere inside that they are something strange and wonderful and… they are like you. Of course, that’s not what I tell them because that would be boring and normal and not alien at all. But when it comes to this question, I tell them the truth in a way that only another storyteller will understand. A litmus test.
We’re Lightning Collectors.
Wait. Watch. A real storyteller understands this answer intuitively. We know that we don’t GET ideas. We RECEIVE ideas. They are delivered to us from the universe, baby. Storytellers are built for stories. We are conduits. We just take in everything that’s around us and we are bathed in stories. We soak up the energy of our personal world. That’s what’s behind the curtain of every storyteller who ever cranked out a good yarn. Sounds easy enough, right?
Wrong. If your litmus test tells you the truth, your question asker will go bright-eyed and misty at this point. Because they know. And they know that you know that they know. And they know that once they know, they can’t un-know what they’ve always secretly believed about themselves. Scary? You bet. And that’s the real question that’s being asked. So, here’s my real answer. The whole she-bang.
Collecting lightning is not like carrying a basket through the woods. Collecting lightning means being a structure that invites risk to zip right through us. It means the chance of getting burned – sometimes, fried. It means standing in the worst kind of storms and not pulling inside yourself. And here’s where my answer really matters, when I tell this seeker the most important thing I’ve learned about what and who I am as a Lightning Collector. Seriously. I looked up lightning rods on Wikipedia, so I’d be an expert.
“…lightning is actually composed of both a cloud component and an oppositely charged ground component.”
Did you see miss it? Did you blink? It’s a glorious flash, the secret to what makes up all our stories, the requirements for lightning to strike – both the cloud and the ground. A story requires the energy of inspiration AND the grounded certainty of the storyteller’s courage. Wise Lightning Collectors know they can’t be afraid. They must be aware in a world of people who often aren’t. They have to believe - long before the flash, really believe – they are sufficient to conduct all that energy. That kind of confidence is what cauterizes souls and sparks voice.
Where do you get your ideas? If you’re paying attention, you already know the answer, don’t you? Oh, you dear and fierce Lightning Collectors, from the most mysterious source of all. Ourselves.
Are you present in the world in this way? Is it challenging to go through life with this kind of hyper-intuitive awareness? Do you find that your story ideas come to you from this awareness? Do you find comradery and comfort when you meet other storytellers who understand this kind of awareness?
* * * *
Kimberly Brock is the award winning author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, THE RIVER WITCH (Bell Bridge Books, 2012). A former actor and special needs educator, Kimberly is the recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year 2013 Award. A literary work reminiscent of celebrated southern author Carson McCullers, THE RIVER WITCH has been chosen by two national book clubs.
Kimberly’s writing has appeared in anthologies, blogs and magazines, including Writer Unboxed and Psychology Today. Kimberly served as the Blog Network Coordinator for She Reads, a national online book club from 2012 to 2014, actively spearheading several women’s literacy efforts. She lectures and leads workshops on the inherent power in telling our stories and is founder of Tinderbox Writer’s Workshop. She is also owner of Kimberly Brock Pilates.
She lives in the foothills of north Atlanta with her husband and three children, where she is at work on her next novel. Visit her website at kimberlybrockbooks.com for more information and to find her blog.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Have I fangirled on you lately? Okay, I won't, but just know that it was a near thing. God, I love this post. Lightning collectors! YES!
It reminded me of Stephen King's theories on where ideas come from. Then my brain was off and running. It turned into a blog. It's here, for anyone who's interested. http://www.lauradrakebooks.com/my-blog/
You always make me think. Thank you for that.
Well, dammit, Laura. You made me cry with that blog of yours. Thanks for that! And I'll tell you...you're closer to the truth than you know - maybe it's that stream of consciousness in the air - with that metaphor about a trail of stones and my current WIP. 😉
We must have plugged in next to each other!
I have actually had one or two non-writers ask me this question. I tell them that I get ideas from everywhere, that I let my mind and heart stay open and allow my creativity to lean in close to my life for snippets of ideas to jump out at me. This, I say, includes eavesdropping on conversations in public and sometimes even using parts of own life as a baseline for a story.
Right about then the non-writers nod politely and start backing away. They turn so fast they don't even realize that the conversation we had before they ask the question is fair game too. 😀
Thank you for the awesome post!
"I let my mind and heart stay open and allow my creativity to lean in close to my life..." THAT! We creatives have this false idea that our creativity exists separately from our daily lives and that we must TAP INTO it. I say that's bologna. (you can sing that) Our creativity exists WITHIN our everyday lives, as do all our inspirations!
I love this, Kimberly. Every word. Great analogy.
Yay! Because YOU are one of my favorite creatives. I want to grow up to be as cool as you, Erin. I read all your stuffs. xo
I got my idea for my novel from reading mermaid books. They all had a common theme. Mermaid falls in love with human, but has to keep being a mermaid a secret. I thought, why not flip that? What if something happened to turn lots of women into mermaids, to the point where it couldn't be kept secret anymore? That was an intriguing idea. I even had Homeland Security agents involved, although I don't remember why. I just didn't know where to go with it, so I put it aside. Then I started thinking about a mechanical kraken. It would be just like the mythical kraken that used to come up and crush ships, only it was mechanical, and did something far worse. I didn't have a story to go with it, though. Then I decided to put the two ideas together. The new mermaids found information on the mechanical kraken, which was a Cold War-era weapon developed by the US government. This gave me something to tie the novel together, as well as a reason for Homeland Security agents to be there. The final result was my novel, Operation Mermaid: The Project Kraken Incident.
Ha! That's crazy wonderful and creative, Joseph. By the way...my novel, The River Witch is influenced by mermaid mythology. 😉
You are my favorite alien, Kimberly!!!! Love everything about this post. And I love when I get the "where do you get your ideas" question.
Oh, yeahhhhh...I totally recognize your googly eyes and green scales as my people. 😉
What a beautiful post, Kimberly. And you're right. People do wonder where writers get their ideas. We get them the way everyone else gets them: by listening, by observing, by writing down the flashes that come as we walk, brush our teeth, live.
Yep! You got it! We pay attention to the patterns around us in the everyday. That may be what truly defines a writer's inspiration.
I tell them I go out to my yard and pick them from my idea tree. (But my most frequent "oh, you're an author" question is, "Have I heard of you?" followed closely by "Have I read your books?"
I like the idea tree image! Personally, I don't like to talk about myself (or my book or anything else I do, which makes me terrible at promo) at all and so those other questions make me a little squirmy. Maybe that's why I prefer to talk about where the ideas come from, because it turns the conversation away from just me. I'd rather talk about the stories to come, than the ones I've already written.
Oh, I love this so, so much. Reminds me of what Mary Oliver says: Pay attention; be astonished; tell about it.
I love that, Heather!
Love me some Mary Oliver!!
Kimberly...I loved this post. But I think you must be a mind reader. I laughed out loud when I read your theory that to non-writers, we are akin to aliens. I've found people that have known me for years have so many questions about the whole writing experience, as if I'm a new planet and their hovering above the surface, trying to decide if it's safe to land! Each time I see one of them they have new questions about the process. And, I find it hard to find an answer when asked where I get my ideas. Sometimes, I can identify a 'nugget', the little bit I latched onto that made me start wondering, But the other pieces of the story seem to drop from above at odd moments when I least expect it. And to say that to a non-writer REALLY makes you sound like an alien...or a witch. LOL
Lightning collectors. I'm with Laura. That's it! All the energy that goes through me while my fingers fly over the keyboard, rushing to capture the ideas before, in a flash, they're gone. Thanks for this, Kimberly.
I absolutely loved this post, beginning to end, and had a genuine laugh out loud moment when it seemed as though you had a camera focused on my writing desk--I'm sitting here with my cup of Keurig coffee, hair unbrushed and still wearing last night's jammies as I take a break from writing my novel. Take it from a writer that has spent a lifetime trying to hide her green scales, I personally love it when my camouflage falls away and non-writers see the scales beneath. Here's to lightning collectors everywhere (raising my industrial size cup of coffee)!
You've collected lightening in a bottle with this post! Indeed, every word resonanted as the Truth (capital T). Thanks.
thanks much for this kimberly!
[…] https://writersinthestormblog.com/2016/11/lightning-collectors/ Ideas strike writers all the time. […]
[…] we’re sensitive souls. We observe the world around us, and as Kimberly Brock called us in a beautiful post earlier this week, we’re lightning collectors. I loved this analogy; it’s so perfect. I wait for […]
[…] Where the stories come from […]