“and if i should die
god forbid that i
pass away with ideas left in limbo
in creative purgatory”
Brian Vander Ark

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Inside the Story Factory
Tue 2010-04-06 21:29:11 (in context)
  • 1,312 words (if poetry, lines) long

Remember yesterday's overwrought, overstretched metaphor? "So it's like a seedling nursery, right? Only it's in suspended animation." It's exactly like that, actually.

So I do the Twitter thing. My blog posts broadcast there via RSS, and I get downright tweet-headed when I'm on a train or at a convention. And sometimes I tweet the "Story Idea du Jour"--for example, this.

The Story Idea du Jour comes directly out of this daily routine I'm working on, where I sit down with the task of writing something new, something so brand-new that I don't even know what it's going to be until it's done. It is very self-reassuring to come up with a shiny new story idea daily. It reaffirms the known but hard-to-keep-hold-of fact that story ideas don't run out. Truly they don't. Ideas are not only a dime a dozen, they're growing on trees. And the more I force myself to come up with new ones, the easier it is to come up with new ones.

"Coming up with ideas" isn't quite right. I'm coming up with ideas all the time without even trying. I'd wager tomorrow's breakfast that we all do. The trick is recognizing them as ideas and not reflexively rejecting them. Morning Pages are also good for fomenting the habit of recognition and breaking the habit of rejection: Keep the pen moving. Don't stop for three pages. Recognize each thought and transcribe it. Don't audition your thoughts against some "worth writing about" yardstick. Write them all down. So with story ideas. What's in your head right now this second? That right there, yes, that, that's a story idea. Pay it some attention. Play with it.

When I started my 25-minute timer, I was also timing some cupcakes in the oven. (We had a cupcake-designing party for April Fool's Day. We had some icing left over. How do you use up leftover icing? You make more cupcakes.) 25 minutes to freewrite on some idea or other; 25 minutes to bake cupcakes. Isn't it great how these things work out? But in any case, after beating together flour and sugar and milk and shortening and so on, after pouring out batter into little paper cups inside the six spaces on a muffin tin, my head was full of cupcake. In fact, what my head kept saying was, "The little cupcake that could."

Isn't that awesome? "The Little Cupcake That Could." That's awesome. But--what the crap is it about?

Twenty-five minutes later, it was about some esoteric ingredient masquerading as extra flour, bought at a questionable shop that happened to be convenient on the way home from a particularly hassled day at work, that got baked into cupcakes, that got served at a ten-year-old's birthday party, that changed the lives of the birthday party attendants forever. Years later, something terrible happens to one of them, and this brings the whole group together, and they have to find out what has been done to them and what it means in their lives now and what choices it puts before them all too soon.

Those little cupcakes? They could.

And then, after 25 minutes, I click "Save and Exit." I forget all about it (except maybe to tweet it, or blog about it briefly) and I move on to another task. I've done my job for the day, as far as the cupcakes are concerned. I've planted a seed in the nursery. You don't sit there watching the ground covering a seed, waiting for it to sprout. You water it and put it somewhere warm and sunny and then you leave it alone.

One day I will look through my file full of Story Ideas du Jour, and the cupcake one will go ping! I'll print it up, make notes, and type a brand new draft about those nefarious cupcakes and those hapless ten-year-olds (and the hapless 20-somethings they became). It'll become the novel or screenplay it was meant to be.

But not today. Today, I'm still working on a story that got planted back in June of last year, that I selected out of the nursery late last week. The one about giant sentient Ants and a rather progressive barista learning how to talk to each other and turn a profit at the same time.

Or something like that.

It's a work in progress.