Monday, 4 January 2016

Ideas Are Like Outfits

I’m no party animal. (Anyone who knows me will testify to this.) But this New Year I’ve been to three New Year gatherings in the space of 36 hours.

It’s all because we have new neighbours, who are keen to get to know everyone, and to apologise for all of the noise and disruption they’ve created when they’ve had builders, decorators and landscape gardeners in (and their associated vans and pickup trucks) to turn their new properties into their dream homes. Anyone who follows me on Facebook will be aware of my occasional mention of SONAW - my desire to establish a Society Of Noise-Affected Writers. Actually, I often don’t hear the noise going on out in the street, except the occasional pneumatic drill.

But then, when I think about it, I’m rarely affected by the noise outside, because I have always had an ability to block myself off from the rest of the world when there’s something far more interesting going on in my head. Which is why, at the age of four, I spent many sessions at the audiology unit having hearing tests. My mother was convinced I had some sort of hearing impairment, but even now I can remember the audiologist turning to her and saying, “I’m sorry, Mrs Whaley, but there is nothing wrong with your son’s hearing. He just chooses not to listen to you.” Ahem!

And it was an element of this that was behind my latest story that has just been published in the February 2016 issue of Fiction Feast, entitled But I’m Not Deaf!

As with many stories, there were several other ideas that came together to produce this one piece. (It was originally set as some homework for a writers’ group I go to, and it also drew upon a few overheard snippets of conversation.)

Often, when it comes to ideas, it’s not a question of finding ONE idea that sparks an article, or a short story, but a combination of two or three that produces something that will work well. For example, an article about where to go in Shrewsbury is an idea for an article, but it’s not a particularly strong one. However, bring in another idea about Charles Dickens, and it becomes an article about where to go in Shrewsbury to see all of the film locations used in the 1984 production of A Christmas Carol. That is stronger (which is why I’ve been commissioned to write it).

Which brings me back to my New Year parties. At each one, somebody said something interesting that generated an idea, but on their own they didn’t amount to much. But when I brought all three together I produced a much stronger idea.

Ideas are a bit like items of clothing (although as a bloke with no fashion sense whatsoever this analogy could fail). One piece of clothing (shirt, T-shirt, blouse, trousers, skirt, underwear) rarely makes a stunning outfit. It takes two or three garments to produce something that makes others take notice.

So the next time you feel a piece of writing isn’t working as you’d hoped, rummage around in your sock-drawer (or wherever you keep those extra ideas) and find another one or two ideas to throw into the mix. Alternatively, try going to a few more New Year parties!

I hope 2016 is a productive year for you all.

Happy New Year.

Good luck.


  1. I very much want to crack a joke about you getting yourself noticed in a blouse and skirt ...
    BUT INSTEAD, I will just agree. In fact, I often explain something similar to my students in a slightly different way - I tell them to find the idea within the idea - but I like the 'merging' of ideas approach too.

    1. The joy of working from home is that you can wear anything (if anything!) you like ;-)

  2. Don't even think of asking him about his leather gloves, Alex!