Writing–Is This Worth Writing?

Photograph of a statue of an ape, examining a ...

I’ve got two potential ideas for this year’s NaNoWriMo. I’m actually delighted that I’m getting any ideas so early considering the last couple of years I’ve waited until the last minute before coming up with something. I’ve also got an idea for a new novella (unless it decides to keep growing). I’m rather excited by the sudden influx of creativity I’ve got going on here.

However, I’m faced with the usual problem whenever I get any idea: is this worth writing?

I admit that I get a lot of ideas, notions, scraps of inspiration, and those end up getting jotted down in my idea notebook because most of the time, as good as they seem, there’s not much to them. At least not yet. So I save them for later.

There are times, like recently, that the ideas I get are so strong that they won’t leave my head and I find myself having a whole lot to jot down in my notebook. I keep coming back to those ideas because there’s something there that arouses my interest and keeps me wondering how it could all work out.

Those ideas, the ones that seem to have so much promise, are the ones that I judge the harshest. And I’m not always a very good judge. Sometimes I get caught up in the excitement and I start writing an idea that maybe isn’t ready to be written, or shouldn’t be written at all. After a few days, maybe a week, I realize it. The whole thing grinds to a halt and I’m left disappointed.

It happened recently. I had this great idea and I started to sketch it out. And while I was still sketching it, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to start writing the beginning of it. Sure enough, had I put in the due diligence of sketching, I might have realized that my enthusiasm would be short-lived and the idea would have been better left to settle in the sketch stage instead of being rushed into production.

That’s the kind of dance I’m doing now with these three new ideas. I’m doing a lot of thinking and sketching. The two potential novel ideas will need some research, one more than the other. But more importantly, is there enough story there that’s worth writing? I don’t want to be caught short during NaNo. One of the novel ideas I can tell has a problem with having enough story. Right now I’ve only got one main thread and that’s not going to be enough to go the distance with if I want to do it for NaNo. The other one already has a few threads to work with the main thread, so I consider it to have a little more potential. Except the way I want to do it is different than anything I’ve ever done before and it might not be a good idea to do it that way.

The novella is healthy as a horse, as near as I can tell. The only question I’ve got with it is will I be able to write it the way that I want to and the way that I see it in my head.

But that’s another post for another day.

Writing–Notebook Mania!

Office Products

I’m that person that’s excited when back-to-school time rolls around. Not because I have kids that I’m anxious to unload on some poor teachers; we’ve already established that I am child-free (though if I did have kids, I’d be totally looking forward to back-to-school time). But because notebooks are on sale for 10 cents a pop.

Yes, I’m that person that will spend a buck to get 10 notebooks. No, I don’t usually need them. But I NEED them.

I can never have enough notebooks. Single subject, college ruled, covers of all colors. I need them even if I already have some. I cannot take a chance of running out.

I like notebooks because I am a scribbler. When I get an idea that’s too big for my idea notebook, one that pops into my head a little more fully developed and pesters me a little bit longer, I’ll entertain it by expounding on it in a notebook. Even if I know the idea isn’t going anywhere, even if I really don’t want to fully commit myself to it, I’ll still write it down. I’ll do character sketches and timelines and outlines. Whatever that pleases the idea and gets it out of my head so I can work on it.

And then when the steam runs out, I put the notebook away and move on. I might come back to it, but that’s usually just to rip out the pages, put them away in a folder, and use the notebook for my next idea.

I don’t consider any of this wasted. There’s no telling what bits and pieces I might be able to use for something else. Or what idea as a whole might be worth something after I’ve left it alone for a while.

The notebooks are definitely not wasted. I get my mileage out of them. I may have killed a lot of trees in my time, but their deaths were never in vain.

Speaking of, I should check the dollar store the next time I’m there to see if they’ve got any of the notebooks I like.

I might be running low.

Writing–Finding Stories

Trash bin

My roommate Carrie and I were sitting on the patio by the side door which faces our neighbors’ yard. On their patio, next to their garbage cans, was a large box, probably for a television. Carrie speculated on why they might need a new one. I really didn’t care.

She told me that I wasn’t curious enough to be a writer. That I should look at that box and wonder what story is behind it. Maybe the neighbors are aliens and the new TV is a communication device (which made me think of This Island Earth) or maybe they had a poltergeist in the old TV and they had to get a new one (which made me think of, you know, Poltergeist).

I shook my head at both of those ideas (which she considered an insult) and told her that for me a TV box by the garbage wasn’t a story. The recurring personal ad in the paper that just said “Please Forgive Me. Barbara Smith” was a story.

The conversation ended with Carrie basically telling me I was wrong, but it did get me to thinking.

Stephen King has said that stories are found things. I believe that. I find stories anywhere and everywhere. That night I found my story in a newspaper, not next to a trashbin. I’ve found stories doing laundry, taking a shower, watching TV, driving past cornfields, doing all sorts of mundane, every day life things.

I don’t find stories everywhere I go. I don’t expect to. Not every story is meant for me to find. I’ve been known to find stories that aren’t for me. I’ve tried to write them, but they never turned out well. So I try to be smarter about that. I leave those stories for other people and only pick the stories I know are meant for me. I’m developing my sense for that now and I’m getting better at it.  The idea notebook has been a great asset in that respect.

So in the end, the stories Carrie found might be valid, great stories. They might take the nation by storm and inspire a bunch of people. And that’s terrific. Unfortunately, I didn’t find them. They weren’t there for me to find. Maybe someone else will.

But when I looked across the driveway at the neighbors’ back patio all I saw was an empty TV box sitting next to a trashcan.

The story was nowhere to be seen.

Writing–Surprise! Idea!

Sometimes I’m going along, minding my own business, and BAM! I’m hit by a great idea for a story. Naturally, I’m excited by this prospect as ideas to a writer are like gold to anybody. The trouble is I sometimes get great ideas at the most inopportune moments.

I’ve already blogged about how I keep an idea notebook for these ideas. I also have a Post-It note program on my computer that comes in handy for these things (particularly if I come up with an idea for a story I’ve been trying to revise for months and I don’t want to lose it before I get a chance to try it). Both of these things are great. Sometimes I kick myself for not using my idea notebook more. But that’s because, like I said, I get my ideas during the most inopportune times.

The idea for “How the Night Haunts” came to me right before NaNoWriMo, while I was still struggling with the American Vampires outline. “Anniversaries” came to me during Nano. Both great ideas, both with rotten timing. I jotted the basic premise for both stories down on my computer post-its and hoped they’d be there in December.

I don’t mean that I was worried I might accidentally erase the notes. I mean that sometimes, at least for me, a good idea must be acted on NOW for it to be a good story. Giving it any time at all to cool down and it ends up being as appetizing as the skin on gravy. It doesn’t mean that the idea still isn’t a good one, but it does mean that it’s going to be more of a struggle for me to translate that good idea into a good story. Without those piping hot images and that burning need, my appetite for it isn’t as strong.

Some ideas, though, are made to last. The longer they sit, the more they simmer in the back of my mind, so that when I do get to them, I’ve got an even better idea of what I’m doing with the story, even if I wasn’t actively thinking about it. Those stick-to-your-ribs kinds of ideas are the ones that while acted on in a flash might be good, letting them roast a while makes them better.

My trouble is that I don’t always know which one is which. I lucked out this time with “How the Night Haunts” and I think I cut it close on “Anniversaries”. If I had waited any longer on that one, I think it would have burned. Some stories, I’m not so lucky on. The idea either doesn’t pan out on paper or I never get around to writing it in the first place because I can’t rediscover that magic that brought the idea to me in the first place.

But, I never throw an idea away.

You never know. The right time for that recipe might come around again. And I want to be ready if it does.

Writing–Kiki and the Idea Notebook

If I were a more popular writer, I’m sure more people would ask me where I get my ideas from. And I would tell them that I get my ideas from my notebook.

Shall I clarify? I suppose I’d better. Don’t want to be thought of as any more of a loon than I already am.

I get my ideas from my idea notebook. Of course, I have to put the ideas into my idea notebook, too. A lot of those ideas have been in that idea notebook for so long that I don’t remember where they’ve come from, though. Some of the ideas I don’t even remember having them, can’t remember writing them down. Those are the best. They’re so fresh and new. It’s like they were put there by an idea fairy.

As for the rest, I had to get those ideas the old-fashioned, hard way. I kept my eyes and ears open and asked “what if” a lot.

To me, ideas and inspiration can strike anywhere. I get hit with it a lot either in the shower or doing laundry. I don’t know why, but those two activities tend to bring out the best ideas in me. I can almost understand it with the laundry. I write a lot of horror, my washer is in the basement, and my basement can be a creepy place to be. I guess when I’m showering, I’m just looking for a way to keep myself entertained while I go through my daily cleansing ritual without much thought.

My ideas are all different. Sometimes it’s just a scene. Other times it’s a character. There are times when I’ve read an article in the paper or saw a segment on the news or some other program and just kept asking “what if” until I had something I liked. No matter what, almost all of them go into the notebook.

Few ideas come to me fully formed and ready to write at that moment. Even fewer insist on being written that second (if I really like those ideas, I will rearrange my schedule to accomodate them so I don’t lose their urgency and thrill). The fully formed ideas are harder to put into the notebook. They seem to go stale quicker than the fragments, suggestions, images, and dialogue.

I like to flip through my idea notebook at least once a month to refresh my memory on what goodies are lurking in there. Sometimes an old idea jumps out at me like a new frog fresh out of the pond. Sometimes I wonder what the hell what I was thinking when I wrote this bit down. But I don’t get rid of it.

The idea notebook is sacred like that. It’s where my ideas come from. 

Stories By the Numbers

Sent Out: 3
Ready: 3
Rejections: A story I called rejected last week due to no response last week got an official rejection this week (with a personal invitation to submit again because they liked my story, but didn’t think it worked with what they were doing for that project).