A lack of ideas is not the problem

Last night, during a phone conversation with my youngest sister, she asked what I’m writing now. My answer was, “Nothing.” Her response, “Do you want me to give you some ideas?” You can probably guess my answer.

Last night, during a phone conversation with my youngest sister, she asked what I’m writing now. My answer was, “Nothing.” Her response, “Do you want me to give you some ideas?” You can probably guess my answer.

I don’t have a lack of ideas. I have a file full of story ideas, some with opening lines or paragraphs, and maybe the ending. Unlike for many of you, it’s not even a lack of time that keeps me from developing those ideas. I have plenty of that.

It’s also not a lack of motivation keeping those stories unwritten. To be a successful self-published author, you need to put out good work often, at least until you’ve built up a reasonably sized back catalogue. That’s serious motivation.

I’m just waiting on that spark of inspiration. Wait! Don’t roll your eyes. I know the only way to write is to write. I know writing is work. Hard work. I know you have to get your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. But for me, a lot has to happen before I get to that point.

Yes, I could review the notes I’ve made on one of these ideas and just start typing. I might get something solid—a paragraph of narrative, a bit of dialogue—but I’d also get a lot of garbage. I get impatient—overwhelmed—by garbage. I’m lazy. For me, it’s too much work to cull the few salvable bits from the reams of dross. That’s why I can’t participate in NaNoWriMo.

I think one of the hardest things for me as a beginning writers was to discover what method to use. Some authors write longhand on paper. Some write, then rewrite starting from scratch. Others plan out their entire story in detail before they write the first word. Still others, keep writing to the end of a draft without even a glance back at what they’ve previously written. It took me awhile to discover none of those worked best for me.

As I began writing this post, I had a particular short story niggling at my brain. I’ve been stuck writing it because I need to make a decision about the villain. However, halfway through writing this post, another story came to mind. It’s one I wrote almost seven years ago, but never felt satisfied with. I don’t know why it resurfaced now, but suddenly I have an idea how to revise it. I’m excited to get to work. My Muse will sort out that villain another day.

Be ready. You never know when inspiration will inspire strike.

As the twig is bent? Does your writing reflect your inner child?

I’m reading Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, which is a collection of his essays. He mentions frequently the source of his story ideas, tracing them back to childhood loves and events. In that sense, he shows that he started writing his stories years, even decades, before he typed them out. He writes:

I’m reading Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, which is a collection of his essays. He mentions frequently the source of his story ideas, tracing them back to childhood loves and events. In that sense, he shows that he started writing his stories years, even decades, before he typed them out.

He writes:

“I was in love, then, with monsters and skeletons and circuses and carnivals and dinosaurs and, at last, the red planet, Mars.

From these primitive bricks I have built a life and a career. By my staying in love with all of these amazing things, all of the good things in my existence have come about.”

And in another essay:

“Do not, for money, turn away from all the stuff you have collected in a lifetime.

Do not, for the vanity of intellectual publications, turn away from what you are—the material within you which makes you individual, and therefore indispensable to others.

To feed your Muse, then, you should always have been hungry about life since you were a child.”

With that in mind, this past week, I’ve thought a good bit about my childhood interests—my “primitive bricks”. At first glance, I don’t see evidence that I fed my Muse the seeds that grew into Brevity. Maybe I just need to look deeper into my first loves. Or maybe that novel was an aberration. Maybe my next novel should be completely different.

What do you think about Bradbury’s thoughts on childhood loves being the true well from which you draw your story ideas?

Write what you LOVE!

Yesterday, I started writing a somber, angst-ridden post. I guess the title and the hearts are clues this is not that post. My last post was a bit of a downer. Some of your comments led me to search my soul, question my Muse, and whine to some friends. Oh yeah, I can be a real joy.

The conclusion? I’d stopped writing for the sheer love of writing and started writing with the mindset of production. My work had ceased to be a creative expression and become merely a commercial product. I’d tried to force it. I worked on four different books. But ultimately, I ground to a halt.

Then a friend asked me to read the blurb for her next book, and the wheels started turning. Her blurb reminded me of one of my book ideas. I’d written up some notes and a couple of opening paragraphs. I looked for the file. It took me two hours because I couldn’t remember what I’d named the file, plus I thought I’d started it last year. When I finally found the right file, it had a nondescript name and was dated ’09.

I read what I’d worked up and realized the original idea wouldn’t quite work … but then … oh, then the floodgates opened! I could change this. I could tweak that. And—Oh!—what if this happened? I got so excited that I couldn’t write fast enough and had to go back to the computer to type.

I had doubts. “Is this crazy?” I asked myself. “Can I do this in my “genre”? “Could this be a good story?” I emailed a friend. She wrote back, “I think it would be great!” And that was confirmed when I remembered one of my favorite quotes:

“Listen to Mustn’ts, child, listen to the Don’ts.
Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.”

-Shel Silverstein

So, I’m off and running. I’m writing, writing, writing. I’m in love again.

Write what you love, dear readers. Life’s too short not to.

Are you prompted to write?

Along with meeting our weekly Creativity Workshop goal, Merrilee gave us tips on ways to come up with writing ideas and assigned us the task of looking at three photos to spark three ideas each. Sometimes a story idea sparked, sometimes a line, possibly an opening, for a story came to me.

Creative Commons via Cobalt123

It was hard not to see this photo other than in a “techo” sense, so I went with that … and a bit of fantasy (which I don’t write.)

  1. A radical new technology enables photographic evidence of the human soul.
  2. She stared at the beautiful blue visualization on the monitor as his favorite song played in Media Player and her heart slivered into shards.
  3. She held her breath and touched the pulsing blue orb, but this time—oh, this time—encountered no barrier; she reached further.
Creative Commons via bslmmrs

Since the main character in my recently completed novel is a brokenhearted man who flees to his cottage by the sea, that’s what immediately came to mind, but I pressed on … sort of.

  1. A suicidal woman retreats to a beach cottage and falls in love with life again.
  2. A recluse suspects that her neighbors on either side are planning to kill her.
  3. In a rental cottage overlooking the sea, a man finally confronts the fallout from his years of alcoholism.
Creative Commons via moriza

This photo just struck me funny, so I had a little fun with this one.

  1. A woman realizes that her husband had lost his mind along with his hair.
  2. If she had to listen to one more of his ridiculous ideas, she would murder him in his sleep.
  3. She knew in that instant on a sidewalk in Manhattan, their marriage was over.

I’ve rarely used photos as prompts, though something I actually see often sparks an idea. Dreams are a big source of inspiration for me. Music can be a good one. Occasionally, some bit of conversation sets my muse to scribbling down an idea. What serves you as a writing prompt?

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