Monday, December 13, 2010

I'm Brilliant in Bed

It's not bragging if you can back it up.

Of course, I'm not brilliant in bed all the time.  Sometimes I'll wake up with what I think is a terrific idea, and jot it down.  Later when I'm fully awake I reread it, and all it makes me do is snicker.

via IdeaGo on
Because in the rereading the idea might be like the way people who are stoned think that they're just, like, so creative, man, they've got all these really groovy ideas, man, and it's, like, they thought of a plot that nobody has ever thought of before in the history of the universe, it's like, mindblowing, man, like, come here (whispering) there's this guy, and he meets this girl...

Ye-ah.  But it's true that a lot of great ideas either come to us, or gel when we're in that wonderful, drifting, not really asleep but not yet fully awake state, and this is why it's a great idea to keep a pad and paper by the side of the bed.  So you can flick on the light and write them down before they go -pop- like a soap bubble.  (This works best if you live alone, or with a very and supportive understanding partner.  Or one who's a heavy sleeper.)

In fact, I keep a steno pad and pen with me pretty much at all times.  (I don't - usually - take it in the bathroom with me, but that's about it.)  I often get ideas when I'm driving, and jot 'em down (only when I'm safely stopped!)  I get ideas when I'm at work, or in a restaurant with friends, or the doctor's office.  Sometimes I get an idea when I'm standing in line at the grocery store (and my g. list is on the pad anyway.)

You may be more high tech and prefer to use a small voice recorder.  The only drawback with those, is later you have to discipline yourself to play it all back and transcribe it.  Or you may have a Blackberry or iPad or some other device.  For me, even though I'm a fast typist, I wouldn't want to try texting myself on the road at stoplights.  Scribbling my ideas down seems faster (and safer, and less likely to score me a ticket.)

(Texting while driving is illegal in California, as is using a handheld phone while driving.)

So what do I scribble down?  Anything and everything.  I might have an idea for a new story I want to write.  More often, it's some detail about a character (one blue eye and one brown), or a place, or a song I think a character should love or loathe, or a backstory incident I want to weave in to explain why somebody behaves a certain way.  I'll see something in a shop window, and decide one character already owns it, or one character gifts it to another.  I'll think of a car a character is driving - and if it has some unusual kind of body damage that she keeps planning to have fixed, when she has enough money.  I might write down "carrots & broccoli."  This could be a character's favorite veggies.  (Or something for my personal grocery list.)

Hey, it's a multi-purpose pad.

The point is to keep myself open to creative ideas as they flow to me and around me.  To let whatever I'm working on be present in my thoughts - not necessarily on the front burner, but simmering in the background.  To stir it occasionally, or spoon out the contents for a little taste.

I find that when I do this, even if I'm not able to work on my current novel or short story for a while, when I do get a free block of time to get back to it, it doesn't feel totally alien.  If I am having a hard time writing new material, by going over my notes and working in the bits about the eyes and the car and the music to the already written material, usually by the time I get to the glaring white page again, I'm ready to keep rolling.

And speaking of the dreaded white page - which is still a white page, even if mostly it's onscreen instead of rolled into a typewriter...

The one big mistake some of my perfectionist friends  make, that causes them to become figuratively constipated, is they try to edit as they write.  (notice, friends, plural.  I can name three people off the top of my head who do this to themselves, and probably more if I concentrate.  This blog is not aimed at any one person - though it may well apply to you.)

I can scold because I've been there.  I used to plug myself up, too.  I expected the words to drip painlessly and effortlessly out of my pen, each one a golden pearl, each sentence an exquisite work of art.  I would cry, curse, and throw away what I'd written so far, because surprise, surprise, it didn't work that way.
image via Yair Haklai at Wikipedia

Screw the golden pearl fantasy!  I don't know a single writer who edits as s/he writes who is a) successful, or b) prolific.  Think of Michelangelo chipping away at David.  You have to start with a big block of material, which looks like nothing, and slowly shave off chunks and bits and pieces to get to the finished work.  Think of a carpenter - you don't sand and finish the pieces before you assemble them.

Of course, you do have to have the marble (raw material/ideas), and tools.  Maybe you work best if you develop a stunning plot, and use the characters to serve the plot.  Maybe you work the other way around; you get to know the characters really, really well, and that tells you what your conflicts will be and how they'll play out.  Maybe you're writing a historical piece and you need to understand the period, the pivotal event or events, and the characters and plot are simply a device to showcase as much of that as possible.  (Think James Cameron's Titanic.)

If you've always written plots first, and it's been a struggle, try characters first and then plot.  Or vice versa.  If you blog, try surfing the 'Net for free use pictures or videos or even weird news that inspires you.  Read an unusual book, or script, blow the dust off that book of poetry you've had since grade school and crack it open.  Keep your ears open at work and in line at the g. store and you might hear a funny story about somebody's in-laws.  Now that's writing gold, baby!

Image via Pixomar at FreeDigital
The point is, to think of yourself as a writer.  Even if it's been months since you wrote an entire page.  Tell that nagging negative voice that says you don't have it anymore (never did, never will) to STFU, or send him on a Starbucks run or something.  The inner critic has a place, and needs to be given a voice, but not too early.  Or s/he can become an evil midlife, strangling the baby before it's even fully born.

Be open to the idea that you're a fertile little idea nursery, that projects and seeds of great ideas are sprouting and growing in you all the time.   Even if nothing appears to be breaking through the soil right this second.  So what?  Keep fertilizing, keep watering, and always keep at least a little time set aside to sit down in front of a white page, and magic will happen.

Just write.  Remember, if you write it, they will come.
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