Friday, February 24, 2012

Have I Got an Idea for You

by Matt Sinclair

Somewhere between rinse and repeat it happened: The idea! What idea? Wait, was it the one for the blog post, for that troubling scene in my manuscript, or that money-maker that just needs a little tweaking. Damn! What idea just went down the drain?

Ideas will come and go, and no matter how many pads of paper you have lying around or digital audio recorders that seem to pick up more ghostly electronic voice phenomena than cogent story ideas, you just don't seem to catch all of them.

You're a writer. Don't sweat it.

Don't sweat it, he says? Easy for him to say!

Yes, it is. My first editor had a bumper sticker on her wall: Deadlines amuse me. Of course, deadlines need to be met, and they are, but they may not always be met with the excellence you expect when the date is assigned. The best way to alleviate that problem, in my opinion, is to keep writing.

When you write every day, your mind seems to change. I don't know exactly why, but I liken it to the way bodies undergo natural transformations when they exercise regularly. When you write every day, whether it's on your fiction or on a newspaper article or on a blog post, or as you zip through Facebook to share what's up with some of your friends, your brain makes associations. These are the stuff that dreams are made. And ideas.

Remember the scene from the movie Ghost when Whoopi Goldberg's character realized she actually could hear the voices of spirits? After that, every spook in Manhattan came to her shop to talk to the living. It was driving her batty. So too with writing. You'll have so many ideas you don't know what to do with them all. Try as you might, you can't possibly write everything down. Do what you can.

More importantly, find time to think about them. What are these ideas? Is this one just a scene? Is it just a clever wordplay that might fit with a character you first wrote about in high school? Is it something that actually holds the power of a novel? I remember the first time I realized I had just imagined a novel. I literally stopped on the sidewalk. (And just now, as soon as I wrote the word 'sidewalk,' I realized I had to tell my wife something that one of my daughters did the other day. ... see how this happens?)

So I say again: Don't sweat coming up with ideas. Don't worry about what you're going to write. Just write. (Ok, now I have that image from The Shining ... All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.... These word association things can get really annoying!)

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, recently published a short story anthology called Spring Fevers, which is available through Smashwords and soon to be available for Kindle. It includes stories by fellow FTWA writers, including Cat Woods, J. Lea Lopez, Mindy McGinnis, and R.S. Mellette. He also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

13 comments:

Jean Oram said...

That is so true, Matt. Just keep writing. I find that helps me when I don't know what's going to come next in a story I'm writing--either that or hitting the sidewalk. I find walking seems to spring things loose for me and before I know it I'm sprinting home to my computer!

Matt Sinclair said...

I'm a fan of taking a walk, too. Even if all that happens is it clears your head, it's helpful.

Kay Elam said...

Nice post, Matt.

I meditate. I know, I know, I'm supposed to clear my mind (and I try to) but when it's clear, it's free for ideas to jump into.

Tonja said...

Great post. It is funny how the ideas come when you write every day. And how they hang out in the shower.

Matt Sinclair said...

Very true, Tonja, but they get a little creepy when they start washing your back.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks Kay. Sometimes a cluttered mind works, though. Because you have to start organizing eventually.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Ideas come and go and I've forgotten so many, I hope one of them wasn't my break-out novel. I try to keep a journal and it helps to be constantly writing; you're right about that. Ideas come as I write. It's a very strange phenomena.

Good news about Spring Fevers. Have you made your "official" announcement?

Maybe I'll go for a walk...

Jemi Fraser said...

I started keeping track of ideas at one point and then gave up. There are always so many ideas banging around in my brain, I'd never be able to work on them all anyway :)

Josh Hoyt said...

This is a great point! BTW just don't sweat it :)

Angela Ackerman said...

I love the shower. I come up with the best stuff in there. If I'm stuck on writing a scene, I'll go take a shower and I always come up with something to help me out of the trouble spot. :)

Ideas for me seem to come as I need them. I know people who feel overwhelmed by ideas that crop up constantly but for me this isn't the case. When I get one, I just leaves some notes on it and stick it into a file. Then when it's time to start something new, I look through the idea file and see which idea calls to me the most. :)

I agree, when we pressure ourselves too much...that's when we get stuck. We have to trust in ourselves that the answers and ideas are out there and will find us as we need them. :)

Matt Sinclair said...

Wow, I wish I'd thought of that: If you're sweating a scene, take a shower! I hadn't made that connection. ;-)

Yvonne, Spring Fevers is live on Smashwords and has been posted to Kindle; it's in their review stage, which takes several hours. But it should be ready to go by tonight, I expect.

Leslie Rose said...

I've gotten very good at taking notes in my phone while I'm walking. Perfect advice to write every day in some way - keep those channels open and flowing.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Leslie. Keep writing!