Category Archives: Ideas

In sickness and in (kind of) health

Published by:

I had decided to do NaNoWriMo this year on a lark, with an idea for which I’d only had the opening at first, but which then turned around and came back to me almost fully formed: the beginning and ending I had, and major scenes were in my head. Terrific! I’ll do NaNo, something I’ve never really participated in, with this idea.

And then I promptly got pneumonia. Again. For the sixth time this year.

It has lingered on, thanks to all the circumstances that go with post-cancer treatments, but luckily it is on the fade. Now that I can really focus on a screen and words, I thought I’d talk about ideas.

From time to time, I’ll run across people who say they don’t have any new ideas, or that they are sometimes wary of writing because they think at some point they will run out of ideas and not be able to come up with any more. To both, I say: relax. All that’s necessary to get ideas is to pay attention and never lose your “what if” mentality.

If you’re a crime writer, for instance, the NY Daily News is a treasure trove of kickstarts for the writerly brain. An artist consumes the world, their brains selecting a pebble from this story, a grain of sand there, a word here, stirring these things together and then incubating the result to create a story only they can tell in whatever medium they prefer. There is no particular limit on creating ideas, no statute of limitations on the stories one might tell. You should always look to refill the well of creativity that belongs solely to you. If it seems to you the well is running dry, refill it: the world around you has everything you need to create your art. You simply need to be aware of it, and more importantly, be willing to take in huge amounts of information, even if you never immediately use every scrap of that information in some manner in your art. With all this information, and your questioning, your brain will eventually find the combination of things that burble up into an idea worth pursuing.

I hope those of you doing NaNo this year make it across the finish line, and those of you who are not doing NaNo reach whatever goal you’ve selected.

Step by step

Published by:

I decided to work on one of the novels for NaNoWriMo this month, while working on one of the other novels in the spaces between that writing and “real” work. This is mainly because the entire plot and story for this NaNoWriMo novel came to me last night rather suddenly and completely. I know exactly how it begins, how exactly it ends, and I know the larger chunks of the material filling in the gulf between those two bookends. I am not quite up to the word count total I should be after two days of working on this novel, but that is only because I had not actually planned to do NaNoWriMo, and had written a narrative outline for it to have the gist of the story in place while I worked on something else. This is a spur of the moment decision. As an even bigger challenge to myself, I’m setting my goal at over the 50K words that deems anyone a “winner” for NaNoWriMo, and I am also committing myself, here in public, to writing the entire novel, doing all the things that need to be done to get it into publishable form, and publishing it.

Lesson for the day? Make your goal a big one, but make sure your path to that goal is broken into manageable chunks. It’s too easy to have fear invade your mind because you are focusing too much on the giant goal you’ve set, thinking you must do it all at once. You don’t.  There is very little in life that can be accomplished in one fell swoop, but there are a large number of things in life that can be done with consistent, persistent effort, and a map that ultimately leads to the larger goal.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Passing fancies

Published by:

The other night, as I was in that hazy zone between awake and asleep, an idea flitted across the front of my brain. I had a notebook within arm’s reach of where I was sleeping. I told myself to reach over and grab that notebook and write it down. Did I? Nope. I made the usual big mistake that people make and told myself I would remember it in the morning. It was, after all, a very good idea, and something I thought could be built up and turn into something rather good. Something that good, my sleepy brain reasoned, would stick around.

It didn’t.

The object lesson for today: if it occurs to you, write it down.

It doesn’t matter if you think the idea is so good that writing it down isn’t necessary, or that it is so good that it will stick to your brain until you get a chance to write it down (after waking up, perhaps): write it down as immediately as possible. There is no reason not to these days, when everyone practically carries a computer in their pockets. Almost every cell phone I’ve used has some kind of notepad application on it by default, and the new ones almost all have basic voice recorders of some sort – even without a voice recorder, they all have video recording. Even if you hate the sound of your voice or your visage captured digitally, keep in mind it’s only there until you can get it down on paper or your idea file or whatever else it is you use to keep track of what you think up here and there. It’s temporary, and no one has to listen to it or see it.

Whether the idea is one you think would be subordinate to a larger theme in a piece of work, or one you think could carry a work alone and be a bestseller. remember to write it down. It’s the best insurance for your brain you can have.


Strange bedfellows

Published by:

The other night, I had a series of very odd (even for me) dreams.  I am an insomniac, and the folks who are trying to determine why we dream – a question that I expect will likely never have a firm answer – have done studies showing that insomnia and sleep disruption associated with it can increase dream recall, often because the sleep cycle is interrupted during REM, when dreaming occurs. Since I wake up multiple times any given night, I can often recall several dreams, in part or in full. Some seem to me to just be working out something I had been thinking over, like how one of my characters can rationalize his work for crime families. Some are not so easy to understand, and some are downright bizarre.

For instance, during the other night I mentioned before, I woke up and had been dreaming about a group of people without faces. Literally without faces: they had heads, walked and moved and talked like any regular person, but their faces were just blank ovals. I couldn’t recall what exactly had brought me to them or them to me, but I did recall that part.

The other dream recall, however, was much longer. The first part of it was someone walking up the steps to an absolutely stunning building. It turned out that building was a library (not the first time I have dreamed about libraries, and likely not the last), but there was a very tall African man near the top of the steps, and he said, “I’m terribly sorry, but women who wear glasses are not permitted in libraries in Burundi.”

Now, I have never been to Burundi. I also do not wear glasses any longer, thanks to lasik surgery some years ago. A random question popped up in the back of my head about women who do not wear glasses potentially being allowed in libraries in Burundi, but it did not come up during the dream. As it happened, he was recorded saying this, and for some reason was desperate to get the recording and destroy it. That’s where the second part of the dream came in.

It turned out to involve a high speed car chase in a not-very-Burundi setting: a heavily populated, dense modern city. New York, perhaps, or Los Angeles. There were dozens of law enforcement vehicles involved, and a ton of property destruction as all the vehicles involved ran into innocent passersby in their cars, roadside objects like light poles and mailboxes, and even into storefronts and other building at some times.

I awoke during the chase part of the dream, remembering both sections of the dream vividly, but without a clue as to how these things were generated, much less how these could help me in any way – well, perhaps the chase scene. That might make it into a story somewhere. Burundi seems much more unlikely.

Still, when I recall these dreams after waking up, I’m sure they go right back into the hopper to churn around with everything else my subconscious is working on. At some point, some of these ingredients may combine in just the right way, and my subconscious will send up a flare about a an idea worth pursuing and developing.

And who knows? maybe one of those packages may involve Burundi after all.

Lesson: if you recall your dreams, pay attention to them. Turn them over in your mind as you go about whatever routine it is you follow when you awake before letting them float away. You never know what might become of them in your day to day work of writing.


Weird snippets

Published by:

The last little mini-dream I had before waking up: I was mixing Kraft’s neon orange cheese from their blue box mac and cheese into a pot of something (spaghetti?) on the stove, sprinkling it in by pinches – as one does with seasonings – while Agnus Dei played in the background. I’m certain people who assign meanings to dreams can figure out whatever significance this has. Barber’s Adagio is one of the most beautiful pieces of work ever, in my opinion. And this is one of the best renditions of Agnus Dei I’ve ever heard. Enjoy!



Published by:

The other day while in the shower, an idea bubbled to the  surface of my brain. It’s often during mundane, routine tasks that these little flashes pop up for me – showering, driving somewhere into town from the boonies, pulling weeds, checking the bees, mowing part of the property, transplanting seedlings, and so on. I’ve heard (and read) this happens to other people as well, as a byproduct of the mind being able to wander away from the task at hand and not have to focus 100% on that task, freeing up the thought processes that are (for me, anyway) constantly churning through ideas and possibilities, whether they are related to the current WIP or not. This particular idea occurred ti me, and then several days later, I saw an ad on tv in the midst of the Olympics coverage for a new series that was in the same general vein, but much more macro on the subject than the micro that occurred to me would be much more interesting. I won’t go more into the idea itself right now, as that isn’t what this is really about – it’s more about those sorts of serendipitous moments when two parts of the universe crash together.

People ask where writers get their ideas, but I think the better question is how a writer gets their ideas. Ideas? They’re everywhere. Ideas are cheap. The process of stitching together various idle-thinking things, though: that’s where the ideas really happen. Sometimes those pieces come together quickly. Sometimes they may take years, or even decades. The thoughtful artist merely needs to pay attention to the world and drop the things they see or read or hear into the mental hopper and let the brain tumble them about without interfering or actively chewing on them like a dog with its favorite toy. Relax. Let your brain sort it out. When it gets to the point where the recipe has been made and it begins to come to the forefront of your mind more and more, you’ll know it’s not just that the pieces of the recipe have come together, but that it also has staying power, the good pieces kept and the other pieces left by the side of the mental road (at least for this idea) on the journey.

Retaking the pen, day six

Published by:

It’s coming on a week now with the writing goals, and is now a full week since cutting off the whirlpool of suck that is facebook. How are things going?

Terrifically well! Far better than I expected, as it happens. I have resurrected previous snippets of the novel in progress, gone back over them to edit a few things, and used them to jump off into new material to add to that work. The work is now just shy of 13K words, with another writing session later to make up for time interrupted earlier this morning by work-related issues. I know that I tend to “write light” and that I’ll need to go back and flesh out some things, especially for descriptive reasons. Over half a lifetime in the tech world will do that to you, since the object of any communication with clients is to understand the problem, repair it as quickly as possible, and explain it to them as simply as possible, with as little jargon and few words as possible. This can be a slight handicap in breaking back into a world where lengthier strolls into prose are welcome and necessary. That mindset, like the novel itself, is a work in progress, and perhaps always will be.

The story itself is coming along nicely. Last night, I had one of those flashes other artists will understand perfectly, where a problem in the plot I didn’t fully understand I had worked itself out and the solution came to me with a side dish of “duh”. I’ve had these moments throughout the years, so it’s hardly surprising in and of itself, but it’s always surprising when such a moment bubbles to the top of the braincap to explode like fireworks.

Florida Man, the renewable resource

Published by:

Everyone knows the jokes about Florida Man and Florida Woman, I’m guessing. It’s a crazy state down here. People may believe Carl Hiaasen simply conjures the outlandishly funny things in his books out of a twisted mind, but really, the inspiration for those things surrounds us here. Since we are not all Mr. Hiaasen, however, were some of us to write in our novels these things, people would scoff at how unlikely the events and the actions of the respective Florida duo were. Simply put: in Florida, it seems there is no event so outlandish that it could not be true. Case in point: “Pork Chop” buries boss in dirt with a front loader and then beats him into unconsciousness with a ladder.

Florida is tragicomedy gold. Ponce de Leon should have been looking for that instead of the fountain of youth.

The number one question

Published by:

There is no doubt in my mind that the number one question asked of writers since the beginning of time is “Where do you get your ideas?”

A better question, I believe, would be “Where DON’T you get your ideas?”

For the writer – or at least this writer – it’s difficult not to come away from reading something and not have a tickle of an idea run across the brain, lodging itself into some nook to ferment. It may be something full-blown, capable of carrying itself from start to finish as prodded by the writer. It may be something tiny, to be used as a nail in the construction of the structure of whatever work is in progress. Either way, it gets filed away for possible use as fodder.

Take this, for instance: White supremacist blows his leg off while making bombs

Is it enough to carry its own water? I could see it, if the story was about the man. A literary work, perhaps, a tale of redemption. Or, a literary work without redemption of this particular man, whose life continues to spin out of control. On the other side of the fence, he could appear as a character, briefly noted in some supporting role. This latter option is one that appeals to me at this moment, as one of the ideas floating in my head to be written as it expands itself to fill the corners of a book that involves murder, white supremacists, Nazis, Holocaust survivors, and mistaken identity.

Answering the question “Where do you get your ideas?” with a simple “Everywhere.” is both accurate and succinct: the ideas are there. It only takes the ability to accept them as they flow past.