On Friday, I talked about ideas and how they find their way to me from wherever they come from. Perhaps I made it sound too easy — true, these days, it’s easier than it’s ever been — but it definitely wasn’t always like this for me.
It makes me laugh now (in a painful sort of way) thinking back on those young, naïve days –when I had all the time in the world (and didn’t know it), and only myself to take care of (and didn’t appreciate it) — when I would sit in front of the page just stumped…petrified. I felt at the time like I was stuck in proverbial mud with no clue how to haul myself out because I wouldn’t know what to do next if I got out anyway. Horrible.
If only I had just opened my eyes! I would have seen that there was never any mud at all, only dust beneath my feet.
See, I believe that if someone were able to invent some sort of Idea-O-Scope to allow us to see ideas, we would discover that ideas lay like a thick layer of dust over everything. There’s ideas everywhere. You just have to train yourself to see them. It’s super easy. It’s just like trying to wake up in a dream, hauling on your eyelid levers, willing those lids to crack open and let in the light, for God’s sake! But once you get good at it, you’ll never want to sleep, you’ll be too busy creating.
“Very fancy,” you say, “but I don’t think no fancy metaphor is going to help me come up with good ideas.”
“Ah,” I say, holding up one finger in anticipation to the enlightenment I am about to cast upon thee, “but it really is easy. And I will tell you how in true eHow fashion.”
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Things You’ll Need: A flayed-wide-open mind, a sense of humor, some self-awareness, good manners, a taste for ice cream, and a supply of your best poison. Good depth perception is always a plus. Dinosaurs are optional.
1. Get prepared. Do whatever it takes to make sure that wherever you go, you have a way of catching an idea. No sense in going on safari with no camera, right? So get your equipment together. Remember, nothing can ruin a day quite like a great idea forgotten. You know.
a. Memo Pads. Buy them in multi-packs and stash them everywhere…in your car, in your purse, in the bathroom (oh, yeah!), by the remote control. Seriously. Put them everywhere.
b. Voice Recorder. I have a hand-held microcassette recorder left over from the pre-smartphone days of Yesteryear (magnetic technology, yeah, baby!), and I love it. I use it mostly in the car, but I also take it on walks. It’s an immediate way to clear your mental RAM and store ideas safely, freeing up brain space for even more ideas. Most cell phones these days have some sort of voice recorder, but I prefer the cassette recorder simply because I can actually feel the buttons and don’t have to look down when I’m driving. A good thing.
2. Take a moment. I think it’s easy to constantly barrage ourselves with information. We’re constantly checking our smartphones, multitasking, multitasking, multitasking. It scares me that I sometimes lay in bed with the Toddler waiting for her to fall asleep and wishing I had some sort of laminar biotechnology installed in my eyeballs so I could get some work done. The iEye, right?
But there’s a tremendous value to be found in sitting still for 15 minutes a day with only a pad of paper and a pen. Even the busiest of peeps can scratch out 15 minutes of quiet time. It just has to be 15 minutes where there’s nothing else but you, the paper, and the pen. Just pay attention to the world. Close your eyes if you have to, and open everything else up. You’ll start to notice the sounds of pigeons from the neighbors’ chimney where they put up that now white-stained plastic owl. You’ll wonder bemusedly what that owl would say if it could speak…or what the pigeons think of the whole scare effort… Just go with it. Let your mind wander down as many What-If Alleys as it finds. There’s stories everywhere at your feet, waving wildly at you, trying to get your attention, shouting, “Me! Me! Me! Pick me!” Once you start haunting the what-if scene behind everyday life, you’ll see them. You’ll see them all the time.
3. Subscribe to awesome magazines. Recommendations? Well, being of a science-fictional leaning, I think ScienceNews is a great one to start with. I just started up again with National Geographic. Seems like there’s always three or four potential short stories to be found in each issue. Actually, if I might be so bold, I think one could even build an entire writing career off of one issue of this magazine if they wanted to. It’s just a jumping-off point, and there are hundreds to be found in any good quality magazine…and even not so good quality. National Enquirer is fab. I also like Food Network Magazine. Yes, there are great speculative fiction story ideas to be found even there…and yummy recipes to boot!
4. Very Important — Do Something With The Idea. Don’t waste it by saving it for the future when you’re more capable, learned, and experienced to do it justice. That’s a slow, painful death for ideas. Show your gratitude by fulfilling its promise as soon as possible. Just write the story. That’s how you get experience to do the next one better.
Remember, fulfilling one idea attracts many, many more ideas. If you do a good job — and you will, won’t you? — word will spread, and they will start lining up for you. You spin enough of those ideas into stories, even if some of them suck, it won’t matter. They’ll forgive you and keep coming because they know you do the work.
This is the linch-pin of the all-important self-perpetuating motion machine of the creative process: the artist must fulfill her vision.
Now, go forth! Catch lightning in a bottle! Make lots of rain and thunder!