Idea Seeds: How It All Starts

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HI I’M THE IDEA FAIRY.

So, you’ll be doing something completely fucking mundane, like grocery shopping or showering or brushing your teeth. And while you’re zoning out and thinking of nothing but cereal or whether or not you should shave or floss, something appears. A scene. A character. A plot. For me, it’s usually two characters and a terrible situation, because I am a terrible person.

And you’ll pause, with a box of Lucky Charms in hand or with the water running over you or with toothpaste dripping from your chin, and look at this thing in your mind for a while. Eventually you stop asking where they came from; you just look, and see if it’s going to do anything interesting.

And sometimes it does, right away, and you can play with it while you finish your shopping or rise or spit. And sometimes it doesn’t, and you have to put it away on a mental shelf somewhere with a lot of other things and hope that someday it does.

When they get interesting, you sit down with a notebook or a laptop or the voice recorder on your bloody phone or a sharpie and your bare skin, and take notes. What it can do, what it can’t, what it needs to become. And eventually you wrestle it into a shape somewhere between what you want it to be and what you’re capable of making.

Once the writing starts, it moves again, because this thing is alive, and it’s evolving, and it’s making itself as much as you’re making it. Sometimes it won’t go anywhere because you’re looking in the wrong direction. Sometimes it’ll die because either it’s not right or you’re not, and there’s nothing that can be done about that. Sometimes dead ones come back, because they weren’t dead, they were just waiting for the right time.

And sooner or later you’ll have a story. It won’t be what you thought it was. It never is. But it’s enough.

You’ll look back, and remember that moment in the grocery store or the bathroom, and the first thing that appeared. And sometimes you’ll see the road from there to here clearly; other times it’ll be hidden behind years and edits, because you were a different person then.

And then, one day while you’re doing something completely fucking mundane, it’ll happen again.

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Before The Storm

Fucking PencilsSo, there were no posts last week because I was on the last blitzkreig-esque run that happens at the end of finishing a story. Those times are weird. My fitness tracker kept alerting me because I was moving so much less than usual. I think it believed I was dead, and hoped the vibration would alert someone to the whereabouts of my body.

The last moments of editing, it turns out, are a lot like the last moments of writing: all fire and hammering as you frantically try to forge a bunch of pieces together into one giant, unstoppable whole which will soon be lurching down to the village. It’s exhilarating, but it’s also tiring. By the time I wrapped things up before spending the weekend away, I was spent. Mentally, not physically. It’s already been established I was more of a desk sloth than usual last week.

This week, now that I’m home, is the rumoured Time Between Books. I’m not even sure what the next project is, let alone when it’s due. In a way, that’s a relief, because it’s nice to be able to think again. But I also feel a bit like a fish that’s just been yanked out of the ocean, flopping around and gasping. I need to get back in the water soon.

Not yet, though. This week I’m catching up on all the little chores that pile up during writing time and knocking off a bunch of small projects. Gift shopping, because most everyone I know was born in the second half of the year. Bookshelf organizing. Hell, I might actually get my nephew’s birthday gift to him early for once.

And, of course, taking down all the stuff from the last project.

This one’s bittersweet. I know I don’t need those post-it notes and scrawled timelines any more, but dumping them in the waste basket is still a wrench.

But they have to go. Because I need that space for the new project.

I know, I know. I said a few paragraphs ago that I didn’t know what that was yet. And I don’t . Not entirely. But I have a feeling. And what I do know is that it’s going to be a doozy.

This here? This is the calm before the storm. Better enjoy it.

On Bad Days

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Maybe this will soften the blow of the swears I’m about to drop.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a good story will have days where that story turns on them, rending the skin from their face and chewing on their entrails.*

Yesterday was that day.

Today? Jury’s still out. My entrails are still scattered on the hardwood and I’ve yet to try reading the future in them.

This is the point where I suppose I should write something inspiring about how bad days make better writers, about the Artist’s Fight, about how even James Joyce struggled. Except fuck James Joyce.

Or I could do a list. People love lists. Seven Things To Do When Writing Sucks Harder Than A Closeted Varsity Athlete, maybe.

Except I don’t want to.

What I want to do is write. It is what gives my days purpose.

But I need to get this blog post done first. Not that I think any of you live and die by my words, but I made a commitment. And if there is one rule for writing, it is: finish.

So. Bad day yesterday. And if you’re here because you had a bad day, then I only have one thing to say.

So?

Bad days happen. You can spend your time navel-gazing about whether this means you don’t have it in you to be a writer, beating your breast about the difficulty, the unfairness, the grand sweeping suckitude of it all.

Or you can get on with things.

Pick up your entrails, stuff them back in your body, and duct-tape everything together. Staple your face back on. Smile.

Because we’ve got work to do.

*I’d say “with apologies to Jane Austen”, but I’m not sorry. I might be an asshole, but I’m not going to add ‘liar’ on top of that.

Where To Find Ideas When Your Brain Has Dried Up

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Come on, the ideas are just waiting. Photo by Stephanie Snow

The Coffee Shop: Sitting amongst the chatter of the normies might be just what you need to unstick your brain and get the ideas flowing. If not, try a triple Red-Eye. That’ll do it.

The Street: Go out for a walk and let the gentle caress of the breeze coax stories from your mind. Or at least imagine a reason why your 65-year-old neighbour is cleaning his car wearing nothing but short shorts and a sweatband.

The Shower: Something about showering brings the creativity out. Maybe it’s the warmth. Maybe it’s your coconut-and-freesia bodywash. Maybe it’s the cold draft on your butt when your cat moves the curtain to look in at you because cats are assholes with no sense of privacy. Whatever it is, get those ideas before they wash down the drain.

The Smoker’s Section: This was once the entirety of the world, but now people object to being passively poisoned for some reason. As a former smoker who’s one really bad day from falling off the wagon, I can attest to the creativity that comes to you when you’re standing outside in the freezing cold with a delicious stick of nicotine and cancer. Something about staring at a wall while chemicals swirl through your brain.

The Bar: On the up side, alcohol lowers inhibitions, thus increasing your openness to new ideas. On the down side, sometimes those new ideas include the mistaken conviction that you can dance. You can’t. That margarita lied to you.

The Garden: I understand that some people find gardening relaxing? I don’t know, man, plant grooming is just not my thing. But if it’s yours, meh, you do you. I do, however, find it nice to sit outside and think. Until the wasps come.

The Grocery Store: Maybe it’s just that I find being in the presence of large amounts of carbs relaxing, but I do come up with story ideas while food shopping. And sometimes the ideas come to you, like that time late at night when I saw a guy in full clown regalia pushing his cart down the same aisle as me.

The Gym: Aside from keeping an eye on your form and counting your reps, lifting weights doesn’t offer much mental stimulation. And unless you find sweat-covered magazines and shitty talk shows entertaining, there is nothing else to do when you’re on the cardio machines except think. Put that time to good use. More good use, I mean. Exercise is already good. You know what I mean.

Any Place That’s Open All Night: Bus stations. All-night diners. Really sketchy bars where they close the windows and draw the curtains after Official Closing Time. These places are repositories of weird, and weird is good for creativity. Just make sure to bring your own weirdness A-game.

Where do you look for ideas when the old brain well has dried up?

Can And Will Be Used Against You: Real Life Research

The tractor sent flowers to the hospital for Al, which everyone agreed was very classy for a piece of heavy machinery.

Whenever I’m around people and one of them tells the often-embarrassing tale of a particularly weird thing that happened to them or around them, the following happens:

Person Who Didn’t Tell The Story: *turns to me* That’s going to turn up in a story one day, isn’t it?

Me: Probably, but I’ll change the names so only we know who did it.

Person Who Told The Story: *nervous laughter*

It must be how psychologists feel whenever people start acting “normal”* when they’re around.

Rest easy: most of those stories you tell me and mine do not end up in our writing. Sometimes it’s because real life really is stranger than fiction; I still find it hard to believe than a well-educated person who had made it well into middle age would claim to find the taste of chocolate laxatives so good that they’d eat enough boxes to spend an entire day at work violently shitting themselves.** And sometimes it’s because the stories themselves are too distinctive. No one wants to explain to their family over Thanksgiving dinner that they didn’t think anyone would recognize Uncle Al in that short story about the guy who tried to fuck a tractor.

Mostly, though, that stuff doesn’t end up there because it’s not the stories we’re looking for.

What is far more likely to end up in our writing material are feelings, atmospheres, quirks of speech, habits, places, or things. That lamp made seashells from a long-ago vacation that Aunt Ida took in her youth; most of the shells have fallen away, leaving dried glue and memories behind. The way family dinner feels when everyone’s just waiting, waiting, for Racist Inappropriate Grandma to make some comment about Sophie’s new boyfriend. The hollow sound of the wind in the now-abandoned neighbourhood of your youth, rattling loose shutters that no one will ever come to repair.

The way you hesitate and flush, twisting your glass around and around in your hands, before telling that story, half embarrassed, half proud.

So, you’ll end up in our stories. All of you. But you probably won’t recognize yourself when you do.

* Or what they think is normal. Hint: it’s not.

** God, I wish I was making that up.

Stealing Inspiration: What To Do When You Get Stuck

Yoink.

In an ideal world, the words would always come when you needed them to. And every computer would double as an espresso maker.*

In the world we have, though, you will, sooner or later, get stuck. Maybe you wake up too tired to properly boot up your brain that morning**, maybe you’re just running low on the old imagination juice. The inspiration tank is low.

You need to go steal some.

Inspiration isn’t rare. It’s not some precious spark that drifts down from the heavens/up from the underworld once every century or so. If it was, we’d have a lot fewer books and movies and comics and ill-advised artistic endeavours than we do.

Inspiration, in fact, is everywhere.

But you have to look for it. And I think this is where the rarity myth comes into play: we think it’s rare because it finds us only occasionally. That’s because we have to go out and hunt it down. And when you find it, you have to steal it like a ninja with a maxed-out Dexterity stat.

If you’re finding yourself stuck this morning, like I am, there are places you can go. Inspiration, like any prey, has habits and haunts that make it easier to find. Look to the places you usually find inspiration. There are blogs and books full of writing prompts. If you head to the NaNoWriMo forums, you’ll find pages and pages of ‘adoptable’: random plot/character/setting/word elements that you can steal and put in your own work. Some of them don’t seem to work at first, but even the mental exercise of trying to imagine how a lesbian stripper ninja will fit into your historical romance set in medieval Scotland can jumpstart your brain.

Writing prompts not doing it for you? Go for a read. Read something new and try to decide if it works. If so, why? If not, why not? Or read an old favourite and try to put your finger, mandible, or pseudopod on just why you like it so much. Reading something great might inspire you to get your own story moving.

Or maybe you don’t need words. Go look at some pretty or not-so-pretty pictures on DeviantArt. Listen to some music that gets you in the mood. Put on a favourite movie and let it play in the background as you get down to business.

Somewhere out there is the thing that will give you that spark you need for today. But you need to get off your ass and go find it.

*As long as I’m wishing for the impossible, I’d actually like mine to do triple duty as a computer, espresso maker, and fully-functional mech suit. And I’d like for cigarettes to improve your health.

**That’s me. My neighbours were having an epic screaming match in the street last night. Net result: five cop cars.

Writers Don’t Want Your Damn Ideas

She is one thousand percent done with your shit.

Every writer has had this experience:

You meet someone, and they find out—maybe you tell them, maybe someone else already has—that you write. And they get this gleam in their eye and you just know what the next words out of their goddamn mouth will be: “Hey, I’ve got this idea. It’s all ready to go. Now that I’ve done the hard part, you should write it for me and then we can go splits.

If you are a nicer person than me, you listen to them politely. If you are a much nicer person than me, you make some noncommittal noises and let them leave with the impression that you consider yourself lucky to have heard their idea.

If you’re exactly like me, though, you treat them to Cersei Lannister-style bitch face until they feel the cold winds of eternity blowing through their soul, laying freezing waste to what they encounter, cutting down men like wheat in the field.* Winter isn’t coming, you shambling pubefarmer; it’s here, in my eyes.

Writers don’t want your ideas. We have enough of our own.

Seriously, whenever I finish something and am trying to decide on the next thing to write, it’s never a case of looking for an idea. It’s a case of choosing from the dozens of new ideas that are clustered around my feet, all clamouring for attention. If you’re imagining standing ankle-deep in an adorable crowd of puppies, don’t. They’re not tame, these ideas. They climb over each other. They bite. The stronger ones bury the weaker, so  what I’m actually choosing from is a hundred varieties of monster: vicious, blood-thirsty, and demanding.

And then these happy assholes come along with their idea—their usually poorly-thought-out, undernourished, barely-alive idea—and want you to put it before all the clamouring monsters clawing at your legs and climbing up your back. Because, despite the fact that they’ve never found it interesting enough to spend hours putting the damn thing to paper themselves, this idea is just that fucking awesome. And, the implication is, your ideas are shit.

Because these people think that a writer is nothing more than a tape recorder with a pulse, a device to record their genius. Anyone can do it, right? They certainly could, if they only had the time. But since they’re far too busy doing important things, they’re willing to share the glory with poor little you.

Note to everyone who feels the desire to offer their ideas to writers: don’t. We are not the elves to your shoemaker. We don’t need your ideas. And we are far, far too busy for your shit.

*Not always true. Sometimes I just laugh.