Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mid-week Mayhem

Status update:  halfway done, proceeding with a brisk tailwind. Coffee supplies steady.

Let's talk about ideas for a bit.

Way back when I was a young tadpole, I taught English in college. I was terrible. I hated every minute of it. At the time, I was exactly the wrong personality type for that work and I was definitely too young and inexperienced at writing to be any good as a teacher. But I digress.

One of the things we'd be required to do by the department, along with other unreasonable demands like "show up on time" and "wear pants" was give out a variety of writing assignments. Personal essays, position papers and so on. When we'd get to research papers, I'd always get a big groan out of my students. Half of it was a basic hatred of research and annotation, which I totally understand. The other half was because students were awful at coming up with ideas to write about.

For some reason, about a third of my class would always pick the development of modern photography. Because of this, I can probably recite Eastman Kodak's history better than their own PR flacks can. Of course, since it's mostly knowledge mined from student research papers, it's all probably wrong or have a fetishistic bent on some aspect of their history that students found easier to write about than the parts that actually matter ("George Eastman's dog was named Tony. He also had a cat!"). But I digress again.

I never really got that dread of coming up with ideas. Ideas are easy. What I'd try to teach them (and fail, because seriously, I was a forking awful teacher at that time) was free association. The trick is to sit down with a blank sheet of paper--or your favorite electronic equivalent--turn your brain off and start making a list. Jot down as many words and phrases as you can. Let 'er rip. The more specific and concrete the words, the better. Don't stop to analyze what the words are, don't judge yourself, just go.

I actually keep my ideas saved as a file on my hard drive. It's called something extremely clever like "The Big List Of Ideas." It's full of gems like "hyperspace train station" or "what if cars moved like pogo sticks?" Great stuff, right? I add to it whenever I have a free second or two. Some of the more plausible/doable story seeds I have fleshed out with a few annotations, but that's about it.

If I'm stuck for a story or don't have anything immediately on my mind that I want to write about, I open up that list, pick something and run with it. The one I'm currently using: "What if trees could eat people?"

There you have it, killer trees. Thank you, brain.

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