Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Writing-Relationship Analogy, or: How to recognize an awesome Idea

I just read an interesting post on Storytellers Unplugged by Carole Lanham, about where writers get their ideas from and it got me thinking about my own creativity.

Just as Mrs. Lanham says, I never have just one idea to write about; there are always dozens rolling around in my head, some of them only once for a short time, some of them tend to resurface frequently, and some just stick like glue, consistently poking my mind because they want to be told. On very rare occasions, an idea will drop-kick me right between the eyes, and I won’t be able to get my hands on the little notebook and pen I carry around with me at all times fast enough – not that the loudest ideas are always the best.

Separating the ‘meh’ ideas from the awesome ones that won’t have you running out of steam by page twenty is the trick. I have so many story beginnings filed away on my laptop that just peeter out after several chapters, because there’s nothing more interesting to tell, or they become ridiculous, or I lose interest because a shiny new idea comes along and lures me away. Most of the times, none of these ideas seem compatible; they can’t be fused into one story. Sometimes it happens, and for me that can be a point where I’ll say ‘okay, let’s give it a whirl and see how far it goes’, because then I have the feeling that there’s enough meat to the idea(s).

As with my Zen-Zone, I’m still trying to figure out a sure-fire way to recognize ideas with the potential to grow and morph into something fun into which I’ll like to invest time and effort. In that respect, writing a novel is like being in a relationship. You have great times together, spend every minute in each other’s company; but there are also times you’re sick of each other, when you fight or don’t speak at all, and moments of struggle to work through your differences to keep going, to restore the fun you had together. When you find it’s not worth it, you go your separate ways.

So far, this sure-fire way is a myth to me – to stay with the relationship-analogy, it’s like love at first sight; a nice thought in theory, but usually nothing that has much of a future. Attraction – the Spark – is the key to getting things started, be it between two people, or a writer and her work. The only way to know whether the Spark can turn into a blaze is to spend time together. 

Which is why I write down all ideas that tend to nibble and resurface or knock me over the head. They’re friends and acquaintances, somebody I enjoy hanging out with every now and again, or someone who plays a vital role in my life. At that moment of contact, they interest me enough to find out more about them, talk to them, have fun or exchange serious thoughts with them.

The really intriguing thing to me is: there’s always the possibility of a life-long friendship. Or maybe even love. That’s when I’m willing to sit through all the highs and lows, the dragging parts, the writer’s blocks. Because at some point, you realize there’s a future there; a great twist in the plot, a cool character just around the corner, a story thread that suddenly falls into place. And as long as there’s a future in sight, it’s worth going through thick and thin together.

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