By: Dan Lawton
People often ask me where my ideas come from. The non-cliché truth is this: Everywhere. Whether it’s a scene in book or a movie that could be explored further, a news story, a conversation, or a banal moment in the string of those that make up our daily lives, creativity comes from the subconscious mind, often when I’m not thinking about it. The best ideas reveal themselves when I’m being mindless and have granted myself permission to think freely about the nothingness of the mundane. Think: while absorbed in the steam of a hot shower, a long drive on the open road, or a secluded stroll to stretch my legs and enjoy the fresh air.
I’m a novelist. I’m also a copy editor and writer for an ad agency. Being around other creative people in a creative environment every day only further ignites the flame for creativity that already burns hot. While that flame often manifests itself in social copy or a banner ad or a concept for a client, the wick never quite seems to disappear. The ideas for longer form storytelling can come out of these smaller asks, and they often do. When the creative part of the subconscious is free to drift, some interesting (and not so interesting) ideas are born—many of which don’t align with client work. Enter: the novel.
While the inspiration for “The Green House”—my fifth novel, which was published on July 30, 2020—came from a situation encountered in my personal life, the idea for my sixth—titled “That Was Before,” forthcoming in June 2021—came at the office. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a very structured, eat the same foods at the same time every day, routine-loving person. That same top-level structure applies to my writing. My schedule is often this: feed the inevitable “itch” to write that arises in the fall, keep feeding it throughout the winter until it’s satisfied in the spring (if all goes well), and take the summer off to reset. So when it was late summer when the concept for my sixth novel came to me during one of my routine lunchtime walks, it was far from a surprise.
There was once a time when I wrote every day—this is where my process allows for spontaneity. Whether this stemmed from the desire to hone my craft or just to feed the insatiable appetite I had for it, there were very few days off. Since then, the more I’ve done it, the less my process involves that—sitting down and writing. I’ve learned what it takes for me to write a novel, so I’m more sporadic these days and often write in spurts. Part of my creative process is thinking—not only about what comes next in the current story, but also beyond that. When I’m not actively writing, my mind continuously wanders about the next story. I’ll see something that sparks a thought, and that idea will be immediately jotted down in my digital notebook. Sometimes—like what’s happening now—I’m planning for what I’ll write two, three or more books from now. It’s a process that never stops, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Only once so far have I been in the middle of a project only to scrap it for a new, more pressing idea—which turned into “Plum Springs,” my fourth novel—although the temptation is often difficult to pass up.
The key for me is being excited about the project. Whether it’s the plot or a character or a feeling I can’t ignore, writing something I would enjoy reading is crucial for me. While I’ve received some validation about my ability over the past couple of books especially, there are times I read what I’ve written and cringe. Other times I read it and concede that if nothing else, I at least like it. And considering the number of times I’ll read and edit the manuscript before it becomes a published novel, enjoying the story is perhaps the most important part of the process.
Now that summer is wrapping up its final weeks and autumn is around the corner, there are a few things we can count on. One is shorter days and colder nights; two is long sleeves instead of short ones; and three is that the creative flame will continue to flicker inside me, and with it, expect a new piece of expression on the other side. See you there.