How Writing Happens…Or Maybe Not

I’m thinking about the ways that we come with up ideas to write about.  I’ve seen authors inspired by news stories, life events, or other people’s writing.  Those things are only occasionally useful to me.

The same is true of writing prompts.  Sometimes, I can be inspired by a challenge to imagine a drunken night or to fill in a beginning like, “The worst part was what Mindy saw…”  However, I tend to work outside of these things.  The minute somebody issues a partial idea for me to implement, I tend to freeze up and forget how to write entirely.  Suddenly, I hear “The worst part was what Mindy saw” and my mind clunks around awkwardly going…baaaah…baby elephants?  Carrots?  Wait, bigger plan needed.  Baby elephants who stomp kittens to death! Yikes, what the fuck is wrong with me? Carrots.  Maybe the carrots are full of pesticides and taste bad?  Huh.  This thing is not looking promising.  The (imagined and nonexistent) pressure gets to me and all creativity gets weird and messed up in ways that are not so useful.  This is the joy of wanting to be perfect and please everyone; you automatically default to a scrambling, spastic worrier with deranged notions about baby elephants.

So I go to new places where I can people watch, and better still, eavesdrop.  I like listening in and pulling out a random sentence, using that to work from and create around.  Since no one knows what I am doing and no one is standing there observing my clunking brain, I relax and passively soak in the info.  Then, since there are zero expectations of me, I am like, KABOOM!  Ideas for ideas sake!  Yay, no one gives a crap and I can do anything I want!  Stories happening all over the place!

This exuberance leads to a lot of scraps of ideas, some of which will likely come to nothing.  However, there are often at least one or two viable things written in my notebook.  The same is true when I find random objects and photos, or hunt around for them in thrift stores or antique shops.  I hone in on some bit of randomness and want to write about it.

I’m wondering what others of you do?  If you write, draw, whatever creative thing, how do you keep going?  What makes you think, “this, this is the thing I want to share” when there are so many different options?  Do you ever hold back because of what someone else might think?

Also, if you see red cat eye glasses peering at you over a notebook, please disregard.  Keep talking about how it got strange during your colonoscopy.

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3 thoughts on “How Writing Happens…Or Maybe Not

  1. I tell people that my head is empty and I don’t always know where my ideas come from. That process is alternately enjoyable and agonizing. Freeing the process from expectations often leads to the most rewarding experiences.

    But, other times I like to try to make pictures about what other people write or think of. I think for optimal collaboration there has to be some agreement of expectations: collaboration I feel can bring out the best in my work, but my co-collaborator must understand that I have a threshold for the amount of attention I can give any one idea/project/composition. Because, unfortunately, I often get distracted.

    So, a lot of the stuff I share is rapid-fire doodling. I hope that it encourages people to value the quick composition as well as the finely crafted work, for the unique rewards and qualities of each approach.

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    1. I think there is something to that emptiness sometimes. There are moments when I feel like the story I’m writing is somehow being told to me, as though what is being said is inevitable and I’m just jotting it down. That said, it’s not exactly like a Moses with the tablets thing. I hear people talk about divine inspiration sometimes and I never have any sense of that or other otherworldly stuff. Tom Petty said once that he sometimes felt like he was dreaming while writing his songs and I kind of like that. That feeling is familiar to me. Of course, it might be hilarious to insist that some of my stories were sent down from on high, but even I would feel blasphemous claiming that.

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      1. Haruki Murakami has said the same thing, about being able to dream while awake when he’s writing something. I guess it makes sense that it’s not like doing a math problem or washing the dishes: I think creating something requires finding new associations between circuits in the brain as well as assembling it in a way that makes some kind of sense. In many ways, the content always was in your head, but maybe it just didn’t have a chance to show itself. It’s like when people actually dream, the brain makes those connections and uses information from several days to build scenarios that, when awake, seem nonsensical. But that stuff was already in there.

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