Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Don’t Think. Listen! by Ann Tatlock

People often ask novelists where they get their ideas. Sometimes, that's not an easy question to answer. Today, author/editor Ann Tatlock gives writers an inspiring tip for those times when the ideas don't seem to flow as well as they should. -- Sandy

Ann: Often people ask me where I find my ideas.

My answer? I don’t find them; they find me. Ideas for stories come to me when I’m doing things unrelated to writing--when I’m driving down the road or listening to someone speak or putting dishes away in the kitchen cupboard. They have somehow bubbled up out of that subconscious place where imagination resides, and suddenly they’re there, planting themselves in conscious thought and growing into novels.

Imagination is a gift from God. From out of it spring worlds that have never existed and people who have never lived, and yet once those places and people are captured in words and shaped into story, they are as influential and lasting as anything we’ll encounter on earth.

To do its job, imagination must be allowed wide open spaces of time. It can’t be forced and it can’t be argued with. We have to step back and watch it work the way we watch an amaryllis bloom at Christmastime. To interfere is to smother it. The blossom withers at the hand of the impatient gardener.

Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury is said to have kept this message on his desk: “Don’t think!”

But doesn’t a writer have to think in order to write?

Yes, but that comes later. The first thing a writer has to do is to listen. The imagination has a voice and will speak to you, but it’s a subtle voice and easily drowned out by too many anxious thoughts. If you can’t seem to get anywhere with your story, it may be that you’re thinking so hard you can’t hear what your imagination is telling you to do.

Once characters come to you, they’ll have minds of their own. They’ll tell you about themselves, about who they are and what they’re doing. They’ll let you know how the story should unfold, if you’ll let them.

Twice I’ve tried to kill off characters that refused to die. Turns out, they were right to insist on staying alive. I’d planned those stories the way I thought they should go but, heeding the guidance of my characters, I changed the endings and the stories were better for it.

Before you write, listen. A writer has no more powerful tool than imagination. Don’t squelch it by thinking too hard. Put on some music. Read a good book. Take a walk in the woods. Eventually, you’ll hear the whispers, and those first seeds of plot, character, theme, and dialogue will grow into the novel that you and God and your imagination want it to be.

Do you take the time to listen to your imagination?



~~~~~


Ann Tatlock is a novelist and children's book author. Her newest novel, Once Beyond A Time, was published in December 2014 by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Her books have received numerous awards, including the Christy Award, the Midwest Book Award and the Silver Angel Award for Excellence in Media. She also serves as managing editor of Heritage Beacon, the historical fiction imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She lives with her family in Western North Carolina. Please visit her website at
www.anntatlock.com.


16 comments:

  1. Ann, this is so true. I love it when I'm away from my story and a thought enters my head that is the right thing to add to my story or blog post. I always say, "Thank you, God." Thank you, Ann, for confirming that this is how it works.

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    1. Isn't it fun, Zoe, how God works in and through our imagination!

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  2. Thanks Ann. I'm learning to relax and let my imagination do it's work. You've perfectly described my struggle with thinking versus imagination. The story is so much better when imagination wins. You're so right to point out that God gave us our imaginations for us to use for Him.

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  3. Learning to listen to our imagination isn't easy, Bruce, as I know you know! But it's a discipline that has definite rewards. I pray your imagination will continue to soar as you write for the Lord.

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  4. Ann, what you say is so true! I come up with my best ideas when I don't force them, but instead allow myself to daydream and let my mind wander.

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  5. That's right, Dawn! That's why I think a great book takes a great deal of time. Lots and lots of time to simply daydream!

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  6. Hi Ann, what great advice! I chuckled at your trying to kill off characters who refused to die! I once had a bad guy who who needed the final do-in but hadn't cleared it inside my head how to go about it...and while writing the first draft of the scene a character actually spoke to me and said, Let me do it. So I let her LOL. First time that ever happened. Wonderful post today.

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    1. Tanya, what a great example of imagination at work! And I bet that character who spoke to you did a fine job of killing off the bad guy....smile!

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  7. (P.s. I just ordered Once Beyond a Time. It was irresistible.)

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  8. Thanks, Tanya! Hope you enjoy it.

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  9. Great post, Ann! Same here. Ideas come at random moments. While the dog's dragging me around the park. Showering. Dreams. And hubby knows exactly what's going on when he's talking and I gasp and reach for my phone to record my thoughts. :)

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    1. Laughing out loud, Dora, as I think about your husband being used to you having an a-ha moment while he's talking!

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  10. I couldn't begin to explain where all my ideas come from. Some just pop into my head and others I really have to work on. I'll admit, I love it when a character walks up and starts talking to me!

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    1. So do I, Terri! I love how our characters have minds of their own. No wonder they become so real to us.

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  11. It seems as though whenever I try to force myself to come up with things, everything gets jumbled in my mind and I can't come up with anything. Thanks, Ann!

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    1. Thank YOU, Sandy, for the opportunity to share on your blog!

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