Friday, March 12, 2010

I had an idea the other day...

There was nothing odd about that. It happens so often to me as a writer that I don't tend to get too excited about it. But this was a really good idea. Earthshaking. That got me to thinking. How, as a writer, do I tell these Earthquake Ideas from the little tremor ones? And make no mistake. For every skyscraper that comes across my keyboard's horizon, I see a few dozen ramshackle, tin-roofed huts. And...more to the point, how do I convey this process to someone else?

I don't have a definitive answer to this, and if you come across these words looking for me to show you the way like some Verbal Sherpa, I am sorry I disappointed you. What I do have is my own little point of view which I will happily share with the person rare enough to read this.

It's all in the tingle.

You know that tingle. I know you've felt it before. You have felt it driving late at night to your girlfriend's house, on the way to a movie you have waited years to see, or even to the store to pick up that one tomato that will set your dinner off just right. It's the anticipatory tingle that accompanies desire. I get such a tingle when that idea jumps off the paper. Sometimes I get it before I even have a chance to commit the idea to paper or print. Other times, I get it from an old sketch or notebook where I just jotted down something that made absolutely no sense to me at the time. The thing is, I never know when the tingle is going to come. I just welcome it when it does. That tingle tells me that I am on to something. It is foolish to ignore it.

How do you know when the idea is right? How do you know what the next step is? Easy. You don't. You, as a writer (assuming you want to be called that. If you don't, you can feel free to stop reading now.) are honor bound to follow your gut. You are required to take that tingley little idea and breathe fire into it as Prometheus did when he gave man his first torch. The only thing that will hold you back here is your own fear. If you spend more than one second asking yourself what other people will think of this idea, the honest truth is you don't deserve it. Better to let that idea slip back through the etherous crack and into some other poor soul's cabesa than to run it through the meat grinder of what you THINK the public wants. The idea deserves better treatment, and until you are prepared to pay it the respect it has coming to it, the best thing you can do is walk away from the notebook and resume whatever you were doing before it came to you. When you are focused on the idea, you will begin to see it take shape in your mind. Depending how you visualize things, you will see it play out mentally. Personally, I tend to see things on a movie screen. I like to think of my mental workspace as an old time theater and I'm sitting in a big comfy chair watching it play out on the screen. These images freeze for me at times, and other times they progress like a scene in a film. Either way, the ideas tend to come to me in the form of "Coming Attractions". I like thinking of them as seeds that grow as I water them with attention. (perhaps a subject for a different essay) But however I form this abstract process into an understandable conveyance, the point is the initial ideas generally start small and grow into something else. The key to this is a clear mind with a vast and enormous encyclopedia of information for you to build on.

Let's say you see a WWI Soldier's helmet and get an idea for a story revolving around it. If you don't have the background, that idea dies on the vine. Thus it is always in your best interest to make sure you know a little bit about everything. This is the thing that curses all writers as know-it-all's, but it is also what enables us to take those ideas and run with them.

You never know what will spark this idea. You can only train yourself to recognize it and act upon it when you do so. The key is to keep your mind open and clear. Let your MIND do all the hard work. use your BRAIN when it comes to making it all fit together.

Esoteric concepts like this always frustrated me when I was younger. I was the type who wanted the answer to the question given him on a plate with garnish and a napkin. I hated doing the thought-work necessary to work these concepts out for myself. It wasn't until I came to the realization that, while we can all get the same education, some people just do more with it than others, that I saw the necessity for contemplation. I'm no enlightened Bhudda, sitting under the Bhodi Tree with Lotus flower petals falling around me. I'm just a guy that sees the cup half full and spends more time thinking about the missing half than the half in front of him.

This thing that sets me apart from everyone else is very small. It's so small in fact, that it can't even be seen. But just as electricity cannot be seen before you get shocked...just as heat can't be seen until you grab a hot class...just as momentum cannot be seen until that fist smashes into your face, the smallest things make all the difference. It doesn't make me a better writer than the next guy, but it is in accepting that I AM am writer, and that I am willing to work these ideas from unseen tingle to fully realized concepts that I truly feel worthy of even calling myself a writer.

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