It’s Been A While Since an Idea Ate My Brain

There I was, minding my own business, fixating on something else entirely (if I’m going to be completely honest, it was something to do with one of my odd famous person crushes), and then out of nowhere, a scene from a story popped into my head.

It was a perfect, fully formed scene. I knew exactly how it was going to play out, but I didn’t have much other context to it. No big deal. Happens often. All part of being a writer.

Over the next few days, the context came to me unbidden. The characters revealed their names, their circumstances, their stories. It was just something that would happen when my mind would drift. Another piece of the story puzzle would be discovered and slotted into place.

The story buzzed around my brain, consuming it. By the time I hit Friday night, it was firmly lodged in there. Which proved to be a bit problematic in the dead hours of the night when the Friday night insomnia hit, a phenomenon that plagues me periodically as a nightshift worker who works Saturday mornings. If I’m able to fall asleep at a decent hour, I’ll wake up after a good two or three hour nap and then be awake for at least an hour if not more. The Friday night insomnia routinely adds up to only 3 to 4 hours of sleep for my Saturday shift. And that Friday, those awake hours I was supposed to be lulling my brain back to sleep, I was writing the damn story in my head.

Late that Saturday night, I spent forty-five minutes outlining the entire story, beat by beat.

I slept better than night.

And every night since.

Outlining the story seems to have quieted the idea. Oh, it’s still very much so in there. I can pull it up whenever I want to ponder it. But it’s not insistently gnawing on my brain anymore. Which is kind of a good thing since I do like my beauty rest.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a story idea eat my brain like this. I get ideas that I’ll think about off and on, jot down, maybe half-ass outline if I’m feeling ambitious. But I can’t remember the last time a story has actually kept me up at night. Or come out so perfectly formed in an actual outline. Even my best stories tend to have gaps. Sometimes they only have one scene and that’s what I’m writing toward and by the time I get there, I know what the story is.

This story was just there. It might have taken me a week or so to have it fully come to the surface, but it had my grey matter in its little fists while it did, yanking itself out of the folds of my brain noodles by my synapses.

It made me itch to write it because I knew it would just flow.

I held off, though. Mostly because of other commitments. I’m up to my eyeballs in projects right now. I’ve thought about doing it as a second page-a-day project, but I honestly think that once I start, I wouldn’t be able to stop at just one page. On the flip side, I don’t think I can wait until NaNo to write it either.

I found a compromise in making Sunday -usually my work-free day- my guaranteed writing day. I’m not going to set any real goals for the day. It’s just guaranteed time for me to work on the project, however much or little I want to. I wasn’t going to start until the first Sunday in September, but…I gave in and started a week early.

I had to.

Before it started gnawing on my brain again.

The Girl With the Loud Brain

I have a loud brain, that’s how I think of it.

There’s always some kind of noise going on in there. Story ideas, blog posts, random bits of dialogue, craft projects, essays, observations, bits of poetry, my ever-present To Do List of Doom, daydreams, ruminations, memories, and if there’s nothing in particular I’m thinking about, then there’s a song playing. Hell, even my dreams are loud. My brain is just loud.

It’s been loud for so long that I don’t notice how loud it is most of the time. On rare occasions I’ll wake up in the morning and it’s like my eyes are open before my brain realizes that my body is awake and the split-second of silence in my head right then is deafening. That’s how I know just how loud my brain is.

And sometimes, my brain turns up the volume.

Sometimes it’s tornado loud in there.

You know what I mean. People say that tornadoes sound like a roaring freight train. The winds are violent, destroying everything, creating the loudest chaos. It gets like that in my brain. Too many ideas churning around, too many projects I want to do, too many items on the To Do List of Doom, too many fucking songs with their needles stuck in the groove, all playing at once.  So damn loud. A roaring freight train would be quieter.

And like with a tornado, the pressure changes. In my head, it rises, making my head feel unbelievably full, putting pressure on my eyes, making them close. An excessively loud brain shouldn’t exhaust me, but it does. The fatigue trickles down to my limbs and I am tired the whole time my brain is turned up to 11.

The cure for this is to release some of the pressure by getting some of the thoughts out of my head. This involves writing out my thoughts: the story ideas, the blog posts, the essays, the poetry, re-organizing the To Do List of Doom so I can better visualize it. Doing that, the physical act of taking some of the storm raging in my mind and channeling it through my fingertips onto a computer screen or a piece of paper so I can see it plainly in front of me instead of trying to catch glimpses of the madness as it ricochets off the walls of my mind, calms the storm. It brings the noise level back down to the dull roar that I’m used to.

Therein lies the catch-22. I need to empty my brain of some of the noise, but the excessive noise has made me too tired to empty my brain.

There are times when the noise dies down on it’s own, like a tornado suddenly dissipating as quickly as it formed. Most of the time, though, I just push through, emptying my brain bit by bit, hoping that the pressure will come down enough to allow me to do a full purge.

There’s nothing I can do about the songs stuck in there, though.

September Writing Projects

Yellow flowersI have a Patreon. I can’t say that I’ve made much use of it because I felt weird and undeserving to have people give me money like that. But with the success of the Storytime Jukebox, I decided that if I have it, then I really should put it to better use.

So, I’m going to spend the month working on a project just for Patreon. I’m taking an old idea for a TV show (I was going to use it to practice script writing, outlined it, and then never went back to it) and turning it into a serial of sorts. Each story, which ideally will be posted once a month, will be one “episode”.  I’m going to work on the first few stories this month and see where it gets me. If everything goes well and it looks like it’s going to come together well, then I’ll redo my Patreon around it and get it all going.

If not, no real loss. I’ll still have the Patreon and I’ll have some stories written that I could use for something else. Remember, I never throw anything away. Hoarding dead stories and marginal ideas has proven quite useful to me.

Speaking of stories, I’ve been working on a trilogy of short stories. I came across a call for submissions for a series of connected anthologies. Though the deadline for the first one has passed and I’m not sure if I’m going to submit for the other two, I at least seized upon an idea that I’ve had for a while, and with a little bit of direction from the submission requirements, got something going.  Again, it’s one of those things that I don’t know what’s going to come of it, but I’m enjoying it and in the end, at some point, it’ll be useful.

I’ve got a bunch of old stuff on the To Do List of Doom, but this month, I’m going with this new flow.

Writing–You Guys Would Watch My TV Show, Right?

Rainbow paperWhenever I’m writing a story and I end up writing a huge chunk of dialogue (which happens often, I know, you’re shocked), I can hear my mother in my head saying, “Why don’t you just write scripts? Your stuff is mostly dialogue anyway.”

The woman is not wrong. I’ve always had a natural tendency towards dialogue and a hundred years ago, a lot of my stories were pretty much all dialogue.

I’ve experimented with script writing before. I participated in Script Frenzy one year before the program closed down and I tried my hand at adapting one of my novellas into script form just for the practice. I even wrote my own TV pilot for shits and giggles (it was mostly the shits).

I find myself drifting back into that script territory once again.

I got an idea for a TV show over the summer and to amuse myself, I’ve been jotting down idea for it in a notebook, something to do when I need something to do. And over time it’s sort of took on the shape of an actual thing. A decent thing. And I think it might be fun to run it out as far a it will go in my spare time. It’s sort of a black comedy murder mystery thing. In my head it’d be like an anthology series, each season would have a different murder and different people solving the murders, but it’d be set in the same town and you’d see a lot of the same faces. The first season is a couple trying to solve the murder of a man they found on their doorstep for the reward money.

See? Fun!

I’m doing a similar thing with another idea, only it would be more like a TV movie or a mini-series (seriously, I feel like we could do with more of those; remember when they were on the Big 3 networks every week, sometimes multiple times? Yeah). Originally, I figured the idea would be a novella, but I sort of like the idea of hashing it all out in script form. Maybe I’ll end up writing it out as a novella after the fact, but for now, I like doing it this way. It’s fun.

See? Even more fun!

Logically, I know that nothing will come of either of these things in script form. I can’t make anything come of anything I write in my other forms. Scripts are an even tougher sell, particularly when you have absolutely no connections and you live in the middle of a cornfield. I love my corn, but it doesn’t network well.

As far as I’m concerned, though, anything I do that has to do with writing has value.  This isn’t a time waste. It’s a good, productive thing.

At the very least, it just furthers my crusade to clear out all of the ideas from my brain.

But, you guys would totally watch my show if on the very, very off-chance it ended up on TV, right?


Writing–The Battle of the Ideas

Rainbow paperI spent some time last month thinking about and sketching out the next Ivy novella. I need an idea of where the road goes before I start driving it, you know. And I admit that it didn’t come as quickly as I’d have liked. I had the basic idea, the very basic story. But the certain details I was needing, the points on the road that I needed to stop and visit, weren’t as immediate and clear as I would have liked.

All well and good. No need to rush. No need to panic. Plenty of time to let the idea boil a bit longer on the back burner.

So while I was letting this bit simmer, I got a sudden rush of an idea that needed to be written now. Here are the characters, here is the story, here is the dilly-yo, so let’s get to it.

Such is one of my biggest annoyances as a writer.

You’ve got your schedule. You are going to work on this. Everything is all nice and neat. And then BAM! Here’s this new, insistent, sparkly idea that looks so much better than the idea you’re working on, that you need to work on, that you should be working on, and wouldn’t you rather work on it?

Like a siren leading my deadlines and plans to the rocks.

Sometimes, when this happens, all I have to do is sketch it out a bit and the sparkly idea falls apart and I can move on with my original project without any guilt.

But sometimes, the sparkly idea doesn’t burst into a cloud of glitter. Sometimes it’s more than just pretty. There’s some real substance there. I can’t just ignore it. I’ve tried and it always ends up badly.

I don’t know what other writers do about this problem, but if I feel compelled to work on it, then I work on it. It’s my second project and it gets my attention as soon as I’m done with the primary project, the one with a deadline and schedule, is finished for the day.

It works out better for me that way.

Working on the second project doesn’t distract me from working on the first project and probably actually helps my focus on the first project because I want to get it done so I can move on to the second project.

And at the end of all things, I end up with the first drafts of not one, but two novellas (or short stories or novels or any combination of those), which gives me more to revise and polish, and more choices at the end of it all. It’s actually a good thing for me in the long run, these surprise ideas that end up doing battle in my head.

It’s still annoying, though.

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–Why I Write Horror

If people show any interest in my career as a writer, the one question they always ask is why I write horror.

For the record, I don’t only write horror. Yes, a majority of my short stories do fall in the horror category, but I’ve written a few that weren’t horror. And my longer works, though I’ve tried to write straight horror, I can’t do it. In my eyes, they end up more dull than anything else. I joke that it’s because I can’t keep a straight face for that long. I mixed comedy and fantasy with my horror and that’s how I got The Outskirts.

But, yeah, the short stories I’ve had published, the short stories I self-published, the stories that are going to be published, are all horror fiction. So the question about why I write horror is valid.

The answer? I don’t know.

Horror has always been a genre I’ve been drawn to, whether it be movies or books. I can remember looking at the covers of the horror movie videos at the video store, fascinated by them, knowing that they would give me nightmares if I watched them. But that fear didn’t keep me from looking at Fangoria magazine in Radio Shack or watching Creepshow through my fingers in my best friend’s basement or picking Jaws to my the first adult book to read. I’ve had nightmares about Michael Myers since I was six, long before I’d ever seen Halloween, which is now my favorite horror film.

I can’t really explain it. I’ve always been drawn to the terrible and horrible.

I didn’t always write horror. I wrote my first letters and words at three. I wrote my first story at six. I’d literally been writing nearly twenty years before I tried my hand at horror. Something in me clicked. Answering a “what if” question with a horror answer just seemed to come more naturally to me. Since then, I’ve played to that as my strength.

I’m sure this doesn’t satisfy everyone’s curiosity. I’m sure they were hoping for some buried trauma that warped my brain. When you write warped things, it makes people question why you would want to, particularly if they don’t care for or haven’t really explored the genre. I can understand that.

I feel the same way about romance novels.