Where do ideas come from? and why do everyone else’s sound much better than mine?

Library of Birmingham. Photo: Andy Mabbett
Library of Birmingham. Photo: Andy Mabbett

The youngest ever winner of the Booker, Eleanor Catton, has revealed that she is planning to use her winnings to set up a grant for writers giving them time to read. Obviously, this is the best grant ever and I imagine there will be quite a few people in the queue for the application form. The grant will be for New Zealand writers, so there’s another reason to relocate there, aside from seeing where the Hobbits live.

It sounds like a grant for doing your hobby, not that I really think that’s a terrible idea, actually, but as any creative writing course will tell you, “writers write and writers read”. That’s pretty much all there is to it, really. Writing isn’t a job you can learn how to do or train for; it isn’t really a job to be fair (well, you can get paid to write boring stuff and believe me, that is definitely work…) but truly, it’s not the same as working in a factory or office to make someone (or some corporation) super rich all for the privilege of being able to feed, clothe, shelter and entertain yourself. Despite that, it is a skill and great writers inspire readers to do and try new things; to look at life a little differently and explore new ideas.

Ideas are pretty much the most important thing about writing. And reading and other culture (including film, music and television) is the best way to get hold of new ideas for yourself. The best ideas are random but seem to make perfect sense and you never know where they’re going to come from. That’s exactly what Patton is trying to encourage with the grant; time for writers to become immersed in other writing and ideas. Talking about the grant, Patton said:

“We’re very lucky in New Zealand to have a lot of public funding available for writers, but they generally require the writer to have a good idea about what they want to write, and how, before they apply. I think that this often doesn’t understand or serve the creative process, which is organic and dialectic”.

Like plants, ideas just seem to grow, springing out of the most unusual and unexpected place; from cracks between things, where you could easily overlook them. And just like plants they have to be nurtured and cared for before they can flourish and blossom into something beautiful, like a three book deal for a six figure sum (ahahaha, not really, they don’t exist anymore, unless you’ve been on a reality TV show and have a drug/alcohol/sex/cheese addiction to bore everyone with).

Ideas are the only thing worth having. I think they’re pretty much the whole point of human existence. When you think about, what marked us as different from other animals was our ability to have ideas. We were able to pick up a bit of rock or whatever and have the idea of using that to bash someone’s skull in, rather than our own less rock-like body parts. Animals are awesome and everything but they’re pretty busy licking themselves to be having ideas all over the place; that saying about a hundred monkeys with a hundred typewriters eventually writing Shakespeare is a massive load of balls. Give a hundred monkeys a hundred typewriters and you’ll end up with loads of broken typewriters covered in dribble and monkey faeces. (I’m pretty sure there’s an art student somewhere outlining that idea as an installation to their tutor right now. They’ll probably call it “Monkey see Monkey do-do”…you’re welcome.)

It’s not just writers and creative, wafty scarf wearing types that need the time to marinate in the ideas and thoughts of others to come up with their own genius eureka moments. Scientists, engineers, architects, teachers, law makers…everyone, basically, should be given a reading grant to go and discover their next momentous concept.

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