Creative writers dread the question, “Where did you get your idea?” I was asked this question recently and answered it as honestly as I could. But in fact, I’m not sure the question has an answer. Ideas come from everywhere and nowhere. They come from our imagination, from the whispers of forgotten memories, from our own experiences, from our friends’ experiences, from books and songs and movies. Writers draw their stories from the amalgam of their lives.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve told myself stories. Author J.D. Rhoades says it’s like having a movie playing continuously on the inside of your forehead. I can’t understand having a brain that doesn’t work that way. So I don’t quite understand what people want to know when they ask where I get my ideas. I’m torn between giving a simple, concrete answer or a more theoretical one that reveals the artistic process.
In the mind of a creative writer, ideas are like a throng of brokers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange screaming for attention. Novelists don’t write because they get ideas—they write because they need to get rid of ideas. They write because an idea is burning a hole in their skull, and it won’t stop until they let it out. And if you’ve never had that experience, then my telling you in a simple, concrete way where I got my idea won’t get you any closer to understanding where stories come from.
But do people who ask that question really want to know where stories come from? I don’t think so. I think they want a simple answer so they can nod and think they understand a process so mysterious that no one can ever understand it. They want an answer that gives the illusion that the artistic process is linear and predictable, when in fact it’s dark and chaotic.
This concept that a Muse from on high touches you with her magic, and suddenly an idea bursts forth, is a fallacy. The imaginations of creative writers are constantly churning. At some point, we grab an idea from that fermenting brew and channel our energy into making a full-blown story or novel out of it. One thought builds on another until a world is born. And I think that’s true regardless of the author’s preference for sensing or intuition. Sensing types may be more drawn to stories that come from something concrete—like a saga from their family’s history—while intuitive types might prefer more imaginative stories like fantasy or science fiction. But I don’t think either type suffers from a shortage of ideas. We suffer from a plenitude of them.
Incubating Your Fiction Ideas
Writing and Creativity: Going Outward to Go Inward
The Myers-Briggs theory teaches that we each have preferred ways of communicating. But our preferences may not be the best way of making the message clear to the audience. When writing, we have the luxury of editing what we wrote. Not so in speech. Either way, misunderstanding can ensue when we don’t adequately consider the needs of our audience.
Sensing vs. Intuition
Often, preference isn’t about what we do, but the order in which we do it. For instance, when I’m writing a scene for a novel, I start with the dialogue. Once that’s in place, I’ll add gestures, facial expressions, and movement. Setting and sensory detail come last, because sensing is my inferior function. That part of the scene doesn’t have meaning for me until the rest of the scene is in place.
But the setting elements of the scene must come first for the reader. Readers can’t immerse themselves in the scene until they know when and where it’s taking place, and which characters are there. Is the environment light or dark, quiet or noisy? Are the characters happy, angry, or frightened?
So, too, in spoken communication, Continue reading “There Must Be Some Misunderstanding: Leveraging Personality Type for Effective Communication”
Writers often get lost in their heads. If they didn’t, they might never get any work done. But for those with a preference for introversion and intuition, it can be difficult to reconnect with the real world. I suspect that writers in general, and IN types in particular, suffer from chronic sensory deprivation. We have to make an effort to interrupt our writing and indulge our senses.
To stay grounded, I keep crayons near my computer so I can play with color combinations. I have a pack of gum on my desk for calorie-free flavor. I burn scented candles and listen to music. These little things offer me a much-needed reality break.
INFJs like me extravert their sensing function. Extraverted sensing experiences the world in all its vibrancy. It sifts through sensory data and identifies what is most relevant and most critical in the current situation. It seizes opportunities as they present themselves. It troubleshoots and seeks a tactical advantage. It wants immediate gratification.
By contrast, introverted sensing relates the present situation Continue reading “Yesterday and Today: Introverted vs. Extraverted Sensing”
In my last two posts, I examined how the Judging/Perceiving and Thinking/Feeling dimensions of personality affect our mental energy when we approach a writing project. In this post, I look at the Sensation/Intuition dimension. This scale measures how we gather information. In a writing project, it affects what content we prefer to present.
Sensing types are motivated to write by a desire to report information that serves a practical purpose. They want a specific writing goal and a clear path to achieving it. They follow approaches that have worked well in the past, building on existing knowledge. They tend to move in a linear way from start to finish. They try to present details accurately and focus on the practical aspects of the topic. They’re straightforward and action-oriented. During revision, sensing types should ensure that they’ve provided context and a unifying theme to tie the details together.
Intuitive types are motivated to write by a desire to express new insights. They want a general idea of the project goals so they can plan their own approach. They try to bring a unique angle to each project. They tend to jump around as they write, letting one idea suggest another. They’re more interested in how the facts interrelate than they are in the facts themselves. They enjoy complexity and abstract theories. During revision, intuitive types should ensure that they give enough specific details to ground their work in reality.
In an upcoming post, I’ll explore how the Extraversion/Introversion dimension of personality affects our energy to write.
Image courtesy of chadou99.
The Art of Dialogue by Carolyn Zeisset
Writing and Personality by John K. DiTiberio and George H. Jensen
Energy to Write: Extraversion vs. Introversion
Energy to Write: Judgment vs. Perception
Energy to Write: Thinking vs. Feeling