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Five Ways that an Idea is Like a Ghost



Readers often ask where writers get their ideas and I love this quote because ideas really are like ghosts:

1. Ideas turn up out of the blue

They creep up on me when I’m doing other things. They wake me up in the middle of the night and demand a fresh look at something I’ve written during the day. They are unexpected and their purpose is obscure. Just like ghost.


This word has crept into the mystery I’m writing and I don’t know what it means. It pops into Selkie Moon’s mind when she opens a mysterious parcel from her great grandmother. But the parcel isn’t empty. I don’t know what it means so I’m waiting for this ghost to reveal itself.



2. An idea can be shocking

Just like the appearance of a ghost can shock, a writer must be capable of being shocked by an idea. Ideas put dialogue into the mouths of my characters as if the words are coming from someone else and sending conversations off in reckless directions. Or they drop an object into the writing and it starts behaving like a poltergeist in the story.


When these silver ducks popped into a story I had no idea why. I had to be patient.



3. To understand the ghost, don’t run away

Similarly, a writer shouldn’t dismiss ideas that don’t immediately make sense. I let them stay filmy and hang around moaning, until I figure out what they mean. This gives the writing a dynamic edge – I never know when the next spectre is going to drop by and leave a calling card.

4. Living with a ghost requires courage and patience

They keep turning up and spooking the horses. I need the same qualities of courage and patience to deal with a mind that’s brimming with ideas. I haven’t called in the exorcist – I’ve just bought a notebook for every room and tote bag, and I apply the utmost patience to even the most bizarre idea.

5. Engaging with a ghost may lead to an unknowable outcome

It’s the same with ideas. When I engage with them from a position of curiosity, they always surprise me. It’s how a story goes deeper – when those ghosts of ideas take up residence and refuse to go.


Beware of objects with attitude. This cowry shell had a story to tell — just like a ghost.





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