The Idea I Didn’t Want to Know

I was having this feeling the other day that a new idea for a project was coming toward me: I could see a pattern to the things I was seeking out.

I have a stack of books checked out (some overdue, because I’m having a hard time letting go of them) that are about magic, illusions, brainwashing, stereotyping, con men, how we fail to perceive really obvious things, the idea of “evil,” and hypnotism.  And poisons, but that book is more about how forensics got started, and how forensic tests for poisons were developed–the mental processes that people had to go through to get to the solutions.

In The Artist’s Way, the author talks about how you’re going to receive inspiration from God – well, she does say that in place of “God,” you can use whatever word you like to indicate something bigger than yourself, an orderly flow in the universe – an inspiration that feels like it comes from outside of you.

Well, I had my first one today.

Note – after I’d finished the 12 weeks.  Not during my pass through the book.

I was out on a longish walk and the point of all the research I’ve been doing hit me.   Bam!  It was like someone held an intervention to tell me something I didn’t want to know:  “Here is what you’ve been thinking all along, the idea that you’ve needed to know but didn’t want to admit to yourself.”  –I won’t go into detail about the particular idea; it’s not ready to be talked about yet (as soon as I had the idea, it started getting pushed back down, harder to think about, harder to think clearly about).  But when it hit me, I burst into tears to the point where snot was running out of my nose.  I did not want to know this, I did not want to think about it, I did not want to admit that it might make for a decent story.  NO NO NO NO NO.

I’ve never had that kind of reaction before.  It really did feel like someone walked up behind me and said, “Look, you’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’m tired of waiting for you to admit that it’s what you’re thinking about, so I’m just going to tell you.”

And, as the idea faded, and the emotional impact of what it meant lessened, I saw that it was a good idea.  I should be writing about it, when it gets fully developed into an idea, instead of just a flash of awful insight.  It’s not a new thought; I can think of a dozen writers off the top of my head who have played with it (including Neal Stephenson; you know it’s a good idea if he’s gotten to it first).  But this is a new way of approaching it, in a new genre that you don’t usually see it in–but has been poking around the edges of this idea for awhile.  The new incarnation of an old idea, whose time has come.


–But, as I’ve been observing lately, awe isn’t just awesome, it’s awful: it’s so big that it can’t help but be horrible and wonderful at the same time.



The story you tell yourself, as a writer.


The LOOK Challenge: Guinea Pig Apocalypse


  1. It’s kind of like love – you never find it until you’re no longer looking.

  2. The Bruce

    I haven’t read The Artist’s Way so I don’t know if the author goes into it or not, but the concept of an idea having an exterior form and “force” if you will goes way back. Of course there were the Muses, or the story of several of the OT prophets describing the ideas they’d get being like burning coals on their tongues so that even though they were initially resistant, they had to accept being vessels for the ideas being “published.” Mozart was famous for stating when asked if it was hard to write a symphony, say, that no, the entire thing would pop into his head at once like it already existed and then it was just a matter of scribbling down the notes.
    Personally, when I was in college and working on my recital material, there would be times when I would experience what seemed almost like an out-of-body experience – it would be like my body was the instrument and my consciousness would take a back seat to the “spirit” of the music playing “me” playing the piano to bring the piece into physical manifestation. Not like an out-of-body experience in that I would “see” myself from outside, but definitely like there was some other presence inhabiting my body and pushing my usual mind into the background so that my usual mind would be like an observer.
    I _think_ this is a Radio Lab episode I heard that is along those lines (air date seems about right for when I remember it, but I haven’t had a chance to listen to it prior to posting). Not necessarily directly about the presence feeling, but about the weirdness of creativity and allowing things to “ferment” between research and execution, etc.

    • De

      Sure – I’ve heard of tons of mythological/legendary examples. I’ve just never had it happen to me.

  3. Liz

    Something similar happened to me earlier, although it’s not a story idea. It’s more of a life idea. It came out during the wish list that Julia has you write in Week 5. It made me tear up and shake my head… but it might be possible, now that I’ve started to think about it.

    I kind of love when things like that happen. They seem so obvious after. I’m intrigued by your big idea. I can’t wait to read the final product (which I realize is a while away, but it seems like it’s worth the wait)!

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