Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Running Out of Ideas…?

No IdeasI never run out of ideas to write…they’re all around me: that conversation I heard at the coffee shop yesterday sparked an idea, so did the newspaper story on pre-teen marriages. Then there was that flash of genius I had while reading last night… the list goes on an on.

But I’m smack in the middle of the final edit on my WIP and, well, I’m a litle dry.

I want to write. I prefer to write every day…but the editing and re-writing I’m doing doesn’t leave me much time. Not only that, I feel drained by the time I complete my editing quota. (And because editing is my priority right now, I do that before I get to the fun stuff; i.e., new words.)

In that situation, it’s hard to be creative. So where do I turn?

I don’t keep a journal or carry a notebook to jot down ideas. (I know, some of you are rolling over in your figurative graves right now. Get over it. And for the record, I don’t rely on free-writing either.)

I’m currently experimenting with an idea Marcia Golub describes in her book, I’d Rather Be Writing. Her son’s second grade class used “story envelopes” to keep ideas together. They jotted down ideas and put them into an envelope for safekeeping. When they had time, out came the envelope to pick through.

Marcia talks about idea-gathering in a way that isn’t how most people think when they’re scrambling for something to say: delving into the personal.

  • that weird old woman who lived down the block when you were growing up
  • that dream in which you were making love to a mountain
  • Momma’s gefilte fish ordeal
  • the time the cops came because they thought Mom was chopping someone up
  • the smell of the basement when it rains

She also talks about paranoia, reminiscences, and old photographs and feelings to be good places to look for ideas.

She says, “I found it wonderful to learn I had this storehouse of story ideas inside me, that the misery of childhood had a purpose: to give me something to write about.”

Marcia also talks about the joys of childhood being a good place to search for ideas, too – but I digress. Let’s get back to those envelopes…

Marcia’s son had one envelope for all his ideas, but I like the idea of having several envelopes into which you can place multiple ideas which might go together. Use a different envelope for each story you might write.

For example, in one envelope you could put the smell of the basement when it rains with the old woman who lived down the block. Add the idea of some toe-pinching black shoes you were forced to wear to school as a pre-teen and what can you come up with?

(If you write genre, as I do, remember that each of these ideas could be transferred to another milieu. The smell of the basement becomes the smell of something in the forest after a deep rain. The old lady becomes the witch or the crone or the seer (or the mother-figure, nurse, angel, etc.). Those pinchy shoes become sandals, or leather boots, or a uniform, etc.)

If you don’t fancy the idea of multiple envelopes, I suppose you could write the initial idea at the top of a notebook page and add subsequent ideas below. The same could be done in a computer file. But I find that reading the words sometimes isn’t enough. The tactile sensation of opening and shuffling the ideas around forces me to consider the thought literally sitting in my hand.

What do you do when you’re looking for inspiration? How do you organize your ideas?

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