A writer can invent whole worlds, whole planets. Part of the delight of writing is making these made-up worlds, whether they are realistic or fantastic, seem so believable that readers love to spend time in them.
You ask, “How do you think up names for people and places in your books?”
I say, “I find them in my subconscious and unconscious.”
Those are long Latin words for what I call “deep imagination”—the imagination of our most inward selves. In plain English, how I think up names—in fact, how I write books—is: I look and listen with that deep inwardness. Then, in words or drawings, I take notes on what I find there.
This isn’t crazy or Satanic or even glamorous. It’s what artists have done since we were painting hairy mammoths on cave walls and telling tall stories in grunts and squeaks. It’s like mining inner minerals that we were born with and that grow with us as we grow.
Be aware, though, that you don’t get to blast out the inner gold, grab it and be an instant artistic billionaire. In fact the stuff you’ll find as you mine is often less like gold than like nitroglycerine, or the furnace-surface of the sun: incandescent, dangerous. And powerful, radiant, wholly alive.
It’s the raw material of art and stories. But the catch is this: You only get to use as much of this, your native potency, as you can learn to manage.
By learn to manage I mean, “Learn to allow your medium—words or art—to carry that deep force without collapsing, getting vague or trite, or going on overwhelm.”
You could say you’re learning to dive deep without drowning. To carry five plates of dinner specials balanced up and down your arm. To hike those twelve desert miles and then find your way home.
The skill to manage your native potency comes from knowing your medium, whether it’s words, paint, music, clay, whatever. It is acquired through practice, attentiveness, and staying in conversation—that is, community—with other artists.
I don’t know any shortcuts. Time and doggedness and the enjoyment of each day—which is the only day—will make you good at what you do.
Then sometime, after your blood and tears and time and mystery and death and rebirth and silliness and delight, I’ll get to read the book you wrote. I’ll get to look at the illustration you painted. Your voice and vision will shine there, and I’ll say, “Thanks. Dear living, honest being, thanks for your book. It’s wonderful.”
All material on this site, both text and graphics, is © Betsy James, and may not be used commercially without her permission.