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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Idea Store

Earlier this afternoon, I asked a friend of mine, "Where do your ideas come from?"

"I buy them from an ad in the back of Rolling Stone," she told me. "I dunno. All over."

This morning I pulled up a book I finished in September to get it ready for an edit the size of a rewrite. I don't know how to explain what it feels like to read your own work except to say that it's different than reading someone else's work. The flaws are more pronounced, the characters more familiar. Sometimes I run across things I didn't even know I knew, and I'm amazed I even knew it to begin with.

Growing up, I was never one of those people who had to ask, what should I write about?  What should I draw? What should I play? What should I wear? I had to ask those things a lot. (I still do.) But I always had an idea for something to write, even if I didn't know how to execute it properly at the time.

So how do you open your own Idea Store?  I have no idea clue. But here are a few rules that have helped me over the years.

Give up on your muse.

I hate to break it to you, but muses? They don't exist. What does exist is hard work. If you really want to be a font of ideas, stop waiting on them to find you and start looking for them. Everywhere.

Don't panic.

Every now and then, the thought occurs to me that I might never have a good idea ever again and will somehow die of writer's block. 

(I know it's not really possible to die of writer's block, but sometimes it feels like it is, and that's all that matters.)

The cure for this is simple: step away from the computer and do something fun. Play mini-golf. Do the dishes by hand. Read a book. Take a nap. Play with the kids/dog/cat. Acknowledge a loved one with more than an annoyed grunt. By the time you're done relaxing, you'll most likely have had an idea. Crisis averted. It's only when you let yourself go into panic mode that all hell breaks loose.

Stop window shopping.

Keep a notebook and pen with you everywhere you go, and jot down ideas as they come to you. If you lollygag around waiting for validation, probably you're going to forget the idea you were ambivalent about in the first place. It's better to write it down now and analyze it later.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Challenge yourself every day to craft a story in your head about a song, a painting, a picture or a building. Whether you put it on paper is up to you.

Don't expect every idea to be a good one.

Most of the ideas I have are crap, and I mean that in a Battleship-Earth-meets-Dumb-and-Dumberer kind of way. You could bottle some of my ideas and fertilize your farm for years to come, that's how crap they are. But I jot them down anyway. You wouldn't believe how many good ideas come to us dressed in a suit of poo.


Take two been-there-done-that ideas, shake them up, and see what happens.

Those are just my tried-and-true favorites, and as always, your mileage may vary. So how about you? How do you go about generating ideas?

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