Chad Grayson

Flight of Ideas

A lot of people like to ask writers, and other creative types, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ And that is, in many ways, the wrong question. I, like many other writers, have a thousand ideas before breakfast (to plagiarize Lewis Carroll). Coming up with ideas is not the problem.

At least, it’s not the problem the way the people who are asking about it mean it. Ideas kind of follow me around like a swarm of butterflies, and it can be an effort to catch one or two of them and put them in my pocket without completely destroying their wings.

Actually, that sounds like a terrible thing to do to butterflies. I regret this metaphor (yes, I know it was technically a simile).

What I mean is the problem has always been too many ideas, not a lack of ideas.

And yes, I know there are some writers who struggle with idea generation. We’ll get to that later. I know I am not speaking for all writers here.

I described this whole ‘butterfly swarm of ideas’ thing to my psychiatrist and one point and he looked at me, really concerned, and adjusted his glasses before dropping this bomb on me: ‘Chad, that sounds like a symptom of mania.’



He went on to explain, and I did some research on my own, and … welp, he’s right.

Flight of ideas: A rapid speech or mental pattern with abrupt topic changes characterized by loosely connected or unrelated thoughts. Flight of Ideas is commonly observed in manic episodes of bipolar disorder, reflecting a manifestation of disorganized thinking and elevated mood.

–Austin Rausch, MS, LPCC, LICDC

Welp, there’s me told.

And I do tend to have a lot of ideas when I’m entering a manic episode. It’s one of the signs. If I plot out three seven-book fantasy series in one evening, you know a storm’s-a-comin.’ In those cases, I will also throw in a couple of life-changing career or education goals, as well as start focusing on about five home improvement projects. Also, I might decide to launch a podcast? I’ll definitely order all the equipment for it! These things all seem to happen at once.

But I kind of don’t want to see the ideas themselves as the problem. In a manic state, it’s hard to decide which ideas are worth pursuing and which are hot—but entertaining—garbage. But there are always some gems in there, and I wouldn’t want them to go away. I kind of see this is not so much a symptom of mania, but as a gift of mania.

And really, it’s a gift that keeps giving even when my mental state is closer to a healthy baseline. I tend to have a lot of ideas for stories. When I was reading only novels and series, it was novel and series ideas, now it’s just as likely to be shorter ideas, and now that I am in Art school, ideas for visual projects. There’s a lot of them. I’m writing them down in my spare moments. I refuse to see this as a problem.

I sat down one day and wrote down a list of books I wanted to write. These are somewhat developed ideas that I thought were strong enough to be viable. I stopped writing the list when I got to 27.

Now, this isn’t really a problem. Will I write all 27+ of these books? Maybe, maybe not. I mean, time might have a vote in this, but I’m not that old. If I write 3 books a year, which I’ve been doing for the past couple of years (and some of these are novellas) it would only take me 9 years. I’ll barely be 60.

What I’ve decided to do is write some basics outlines for these books and do what I do best: put them on a schedule! Now, my schedule doesn’t have dates on it because that makes me put way too much pressure on myself. My schedule is basically a list. And I have solid plans for the next 7 projects.

               Finish World Enough and Time (current WIP, standalone sci-fi romance novella)

               Write Blood of the Saints (post-apocalyptic standalone fantasy short story/novella)

               Write The Lion and the Sparrow (standalone fantasy novella)

               Write Valley of Storms (Ascension Apocalypse book 2)

               Write Seeds of Hope (standalone sci fi novella)

               Write The Glittering Tomb (The Circle and the Shadow book 2)

               Write Stars Without End (Broken Stars finale)

3 of those projects short. I hope. These are all ideas that I’ve developed to the point that I am ready to start writing them. I have many others in more nascent stages. And clearly, I have not taken the advice that says, ‘Finish 1 series and the move on to the next.’ I know that’s good advice. But my muse has adhd (obviously) so here we are. Also, no traditional publisher in their right mind is going to let me do things in this order, Ursula Vernon/T. Kingfisher’s career notwithstanding. So, thank God that self-publishing is an option.

And this is just the writing. I have Curse of the Onyx Heart (The Circle and the Shadow book 1) basically ready to go as soon as I order the cover. And Beneath the Silent Stars (Broken Stars book 5) will go to the editor in March. I’m hoping World Enough and Time will be ready to publish by November.

So … I have a lot of ideas. I’ve learned how to snag hold of them and develop them to the point that they work as complete stories. I’m learning how to do that with art as well. I refuse to see this as a symptom of mental illness, or if it is, thank God there’s no cure.

As for the people who tell me they struggle to come up with ideas, I don’t have much advice, except to say you need to be absorbing all sorts of stories in various media, and figuring out which ones speak to you and why. That will help you find your own unique voice. You also need to be going out into the world and having Experiences. Work some crappy (but not abusive) jobs. Take a trip that scares you. Fall in love and get your heart broken. There are many experiences that are out there waiting for you and many of them don’t even cost any money. You have some sort of internal antenna that needs to be out, collecting signals, or, if you like this metaphor better, you need to be looking for the butterflies and carrying a net to catch them with. You find what you’re looking for (thanks, reticular activating system!), so if you’re looking for ideas, they will come to you. That may mean you need to change from being a passive observer of what is happening to someone who is always trying to figure things out, and maybe even putting themselves in the middle of the action.

A Flight of ideas might be a symptom, but it is also a gift. And I’m glad that I’ve been given treatments for my mental illness that have not taken this away from me. I would miss it. It feels like a vital part of myself. I don’t know who I would be without it.

Or develop bipolar disorder. That’s what worked for me!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top