Wednesday, May 02, 2018

On Writing 2: Ideas

On the 21st of January, 1990, I had some exciting news. I wrote at the time that it was 'quite exciting.' I'm sure I meant it was really exciting, and it was: a children's story I'd written had been accepted for a very popular New Zealand children's radio programme called Ears, which ran from 1988 to 1996. (Ears was the name of the programme; the story was called When Dad Went Fishing. You can read it here.)

Instead of encouraging me to go on and write more children's stories, I did one of those things writers do and got despondent. I'll never have another idea!we cry. I don't know why this happens; maybe it's a kind of let-down after something good has occurred. Here was what I wrote at the time: 

In regard to children's stories, I need piles of ideas to draw from so that I've got something to work on, and don't feel I have to dredge up something to make it work because I have nothing to back that one idea up. At present I feel really dry when it comes to trying to write something for the kids. I've tried lying in bed at night thinking of something: doesn't seem necessarily to be the most productive place. Last night, I had an idea about a house shift, and the little kid getting lost continually in the middle of it all, and lists of the things that the family were packing as the hours went by, and increasing numbers of people coming to help. But developing something like this is the problem: having the energy to do it. 

Of course it isn't having the 'energy' to do it, it's the getting on and doing it. Procrastination, which I've talked about a number of times on this blog and which I'm sure I'll talk about again more than once in future posts, is the thing that gets writers into such trouble. 

But let's not give procrastination more house room for the moment. Let's talk about ideas. We don't have to 'dredge up' ideas. We have to be aware of ideas that come unbidden, and note them down, even if at that stage they're barely formed. They will often lead to something later. 

Yesterday I came across one of my old music manuscript books in which there are scribblings galore, the beginnings of a number of songs and piano pieces. Some of these sketches (often no more than a couple of bars) sat in their poor naked state for some time before getting their moment of glory, and becoming the start of something big. Often the ideas had started out as nothing more than a bit of twiddling on the piano, or even flightier, a bit of a tune in my head. Seldom do these things stay in that twiddling or flighty stage, or course. They vanish if we don't seize them. 

We should never feel 'dry' about ideas. Trying to 'think up' ideas is a waste of time, especially in bed at night, where, if you actually did have an idea, you'd have to race out of bed, grab a pen and jot it down. In the dark. 

Courtesy of Danny Steaven
What is curious about the extract from my diary above is that in spite of my complaints I then go on to jot down an idea, one that even now I can see the possibilities of. Why didn't I pick up on that at the time? Who knows? 

The basic point is that ideas are everywhere, if we're prepared to keep our eyes and ears open. We
have to be aware that they won't come in a final state: they'll be like a moth or butterfly, barely able to be caught before they're gone. It's good to have a pen handy, or to jot down something on your mobile phone.

The thing not to do is say, Nah, that 'idea' isn't worth pursuing. Ideas are gifts from God - He leaves it up to us to develop them. 

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