Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Chasing Butterflies June 1, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 12:43 PM
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Ideas can come from anywhere. In some interviews I’ve read, authors insist that they don’t know where they get their plots and characters. Others recount long stories describing the source of their inspiration.

For me, the best ideas come from combinations. It’s like a chemical reaction. Stories I’ve read, things I’ve seen, snatches of conversation, images… they bounce around, reacting with one another to form new and interesting products. Sometimes I get a flash of catalytic inspiration where lines and phrases pop up without any effort. At other times I have to let things stew, jotting down ideas before they fade away again, trying to salvage solids from a mess of solution.

I think I’ve written here before not to let those flashes of inspiration mislead you. Often they’re mirages – lush and inviting at first, but fading away as you approach. Then you either shuffle back to the project you abandoned or chase another imagined oasis on the horizon. Too much jumping from idea to idea ensures that you’ll never get anything done.

However, sometimes things have to be written. A perfect paragraph or poem that writes itself is like a butterfly. (Getting metaphor overload yet?) If you don’t capture it right away, it’ll fly off and you’ll be left with an indistinct memory. Even though I typically advise caution and prefer meticulously outlining my thoughts, it can be exciting and rewarding to race across the landscape chasing butterflies.

This happened to me last night. Several stories I’d read lined up, a few phrases melding together. I mixed together current event snippets I read in the paper, the image of a little kid with broken eyes, and the question: When you’re born, are you living or dying?  These all coalesced into a few lines of text. Immediately, I grabbed a piece of paper and started writing. I didn’t know who the peaker was, who they were talking to, or why. As the words  kept coming, I found out bits and pieces. It was a new experience for me .I’m used to knowing everything before I start to write. Typically I scoff at people who say they have to get to know their characters. You make your characters. This time, though, it was different. I had no idea who this person was or what they had to say. I was just along for the ride.

What resulted was a rather weird, improperly punctuated flash that reads more like slam poetry than anything else. It’s different from most of the stuff I write. Maybe I’ll play around with it later. Maybe it’ll rot away in my desk drawer. I don’t know. But I followed the butterfly and tried something new, which was a lot of fun. Don’t be afraid, once in a while, to let the inspiration take over and see where it leads you.


The Idea Tree July 18, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 1:49 PM
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I think everyone has had this happen to them. You’re a kid, you’re in the store, and you see something you want. You tug on your mom or dad’s arm and say, “Can I have that?”

“No, sweetie,” your parent responds. “Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know.”

It’s a rather odd image. Why don’t they say, “We don’t have much money”? Or “Money doesn’t fall out of the sky.” Why on earth would it grow on trees? (Actually, I believe our dollar bills contain cotton, so technically, money grows on bushes.)

Anyway, I’m here to inform you that ideas don’t grow on trees either. But never fear – they appear everywhere else. For most writers, ideas are not the problem. The problem is writing all of them in full. Here’s a list of just some of the places I get my ideas:

1. Dreams. A delightful romp through the subconscious mind can create all sorts of fun scenarios. Unfortunately, dream situations often make sense to us while we’re in them, but be completely ridiculous. To avoid working myself into a story that’s just plain crazy, I will jot the dream into a notebook and let it settle for a week before checking to see if it’s plausible.

2. Life. This is quite a broad category. People, places, events… all of these can spark ideas. I usually don’t write something that closely parallels my real life, but I’ll borrow bits and pieces. Next year’s NaNo (I’ve gone through five ideas so far, but this one’s a keeper) was inspired by a friend’s predicament. I used to say that every character I write is some split personality version of me. After all, I dreamed them up.

3. Media. Everything I read, watch, or hear influences me, whether I want it to or not. I’m almost a style/voice chameleon – after reading a book, I’ll find my thoughts mimicking the author’s style for a couple of hours. Books especially can give me ideas – I might read a historical novel and decide it would be neat to set a story in the past, or see a story done badly and think of how it could be done better.

4. Phrases. Just a few words can spark an idea. Strange Bedfellows actually started with the sentence ‘My roommate is going to kill me.’ I then tried to figure out why this would be the case, asking myself questions and answering them to build an entire world from one idea.

For me, at least, ideas are the easiest part of the story. It’s finding time to write all of them that’s the problem.