Category Archives: writing
Lots of people ask me where I get my ideas.
Stephen King answers the same question this way:
“. . . good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, interviewed the American poet, Ruth Stone. During that interview, Ruth Stone spoke of feeling poems:
“. . . coming at her from over the landscape like a thunderous train of air.” She said that when this happened, she felt the poem coming, it shook the earth beneath her feet, and the only thing she could do was run like hell to the house, chased by the poem. She had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Sometimes, she said, she wouldn’t be fast enough and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and it would continue on across the landscape looking for another poet.”
Wouldn’t that be exciting?
I’m helped by Julia Cameron’s morning pages. In The Artist’s Way, she recommends the daily practice of writing three pages every morning. Weird and wonderful stuff comes to me on those pages. The ideas feed this blog and my other creative writing. The ideas arise out of a creative primordial ooze; I dredge them out of the muck, and they rise to the surface with a sucking sound, brand new and unevolved.
Without fail, something comes up. Almost always I think: “I could never have thought of that on my own.”
Out of the empty sky, barreling across the landscape, or rising out of the primordial soup—however we choose to describe it—the ideas come from somewhere, someone, someplace, something outside of us.
We just recognize them when they show up.
“. . . it’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like thinking, and it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about. —John Cleese
I’ll be taking a blog break for the next few weeks—time to refill my creative well. While I enjoy this breather, I will ponder the wisdom of the oh-so-creative John Cleese and his five keys to creativity:
1. Space – a playful a creative space away from demands, an “oasis of quiet”
2. Time – a specific period of time, because play must begin and end, otherwise it is not play
3. Time (No. That’s not a typo.) – all the time the creativity requires to turn a problem into an opportunity
4. Confidence – openness to anything that might happen
5. Humour – silliness
When I return from playing on the open road, I will seek to play in his open mode.
Tuesday I wrote about camp counselors’ hats in “Do you love it or do you love it?”, and yesterday I found this note on the ground:
- bow tie
- hot pink feather
I thought, “Whoa, I want to go to that party.”
Bow ties are making comeback, so I wasn’t too surprised by that one. But what kind of bow tie did the writer have in mind? I ran through the list of possibilities. A classic black tuxedo tie, a dignified plaid one, or maybe a large, droopy hot pink number to match the feather?
I wondered why (ears?) needed parentheses and a question mark. Most of us come with ears firmly attached, so I assume the (ears?) referred to here would be detachable accessories. Perhaps the person needed to be Yoda, or a cat, or Spock. But not for certain, because of that question mark. Perhaps a friend could bring the (ears?) instead. Or perhaps the person felt that, with a bow tie and a hot pink feather already in play, (ears?) would be just too much—over the top.
Oh yes, the hot pink feather. That really made me smile. What day doesn’t get a little better with a hot pink feather? I pictured a luscious Ostrich-sized one. A puny one simply wouldn’t do.
As I walked on I realized I was close to the intermediate school in our area, and the note was likely a leftover from the school play at the end of the year. Then I pictured a child saying to a parent, “Oh yeah. I need a bow tie, (ears?) and a hot pink feather for tomorrow.” This would happen at 9:01 p.m., immediately after all the stores had closed for the day. (Similar scenarios played out in our house more than once.)
The writer of this note dropped it along the way. Did that mean that he or she arrived home and thought, “I know I was supposed to bring something. Now, what was it again?” Did a droopy, hot pink bow tie make it to the event? What about the poor, questionable (ears?)?
Stephen King is one of those writers who recommends a daily walk. Now I understand how he comes up with those out-of-this-world ideas of his.
I remember watching my grandmother make pies.
To my recollection, she didn’t measure anything. She put the ingredients for the pastry in the bowl and just knew when it “felt right.” She rolled out the pastry and flipped it around effortlessly. No sticking. No crumbling. Picture-perfect every time.
Pie crust at my house doesn’t come so easily.
I read the directions. I measure with care. Then I curse wet pastry that sticks to the rolling surface, or I find even more colourful words if dry pastry crumbles into bits. Argh. So frustrating.
My grandmother was like any traditional farm wife of her time. One of her main tasks was to come up with meals for her husband when he came in from the barns or fields every day: Meat, potatoes and—without question—dessert. By the time I came along, my grandmother had probably made thousands of pies in her lifetime. She had fulfilled Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule. She was a pie-making expert.
My mother learned the pie crust craft as well. As soon as she was old enough, like any traditional farm girl of her time, she had to pitch in to help take care of the family. She learned the “feels right” texture of pastry that rolled out to just the right size and just the right thickness and flipped it into the pie plate with ease.
I’m a product of a different time. Dessert at my house is an exception, not a rule. I didn’t need, or choose, to spend the time developing pastry skill. But every once in a while—like this week leading up to our church bazaar—I make pies. Every time, I think of my grandmother’s and mother’s pastry skill. Every time, I wish I had it. And then, every time, I ask myself, “Do I really want to invest 10,000 of my hours into developing pie crust skill?”
My grandmother and mother had no choice. I do.
If I have 10,000 hours to allot to honing a skill, sorry dessert lovers, but it won’t be pie. Thanks to my feminist fore-sisters, an endless number of life choices stretch out on a path before me. I choose to write, make mistakes, and then become a better writer. (A misplaced modifier is the writer equivalent of sticky pie pastry.) I choose to keep searching for ways to make people think differently about what’s going on in the world. I choose to volunteer in my community and around the world and with each effort and new relationship make the world a better place. I’ll keep doing it until it just “feels right.” No sticking, no crumbling and picture-perfect every time.
How are you spending your 10,000 hours?
I celebrate a well-placed comma and a properly used apostrophe.
Punctuation makes reading and comprehending so much easier than it was in the time of Socrates. Pity him, for he had to endure Greek texts written in scriptio continua. His scrolls looked something like this:
(from The Desiderata —© Max Ehrmann 1927)
I send gratitude, then, to Aristophanes of Byzantium, the director of the Library of Alexandria around 200 BCE, who decided to make his life easier by inserting dots at the end of sentences. Thank you for the period, Aristophanes of Byzantium! (Source: Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer)
People seemed content with a period for some time. Hundreds of years later, spacing and varying types of punctuation finally entered, one by one, into our written language.
We now have commas, exclamation marks, question marks, ellipses, colons, semi-colons, hyphens, interrobangs, and sarkmarks. All those punctuation choices create different kinds of comprehension problems. Lynn Truss made the dilemma of the serial comma famous through her book title Eats, Shoots, & Leaves. The “Let’s eat, grandma” and “Let’s eat grandma” photo circulates through our social media feeds.
I edit a newsletter for our church. Someone saved me from myself when they corrected an error in a title for an upcoming event. The corrected version read “Struggling Toward Christmas” Lunch, Sunday at noon.” My original version had the poor people fighting and thrashing their way toward food when I left out the quotation marks: Struggling Toward Christmas Lunch.
Possessive apostrophes and commas create the most problems, but in most cases, we roll with the errors and have a good laugh. (Unless someone really is planning on cooking up grandma.) Every once in a while, though, it costs big bucks. Rogers Communications found this out when a comma cost them a million dollars.
So, I celebrate the curious squiggles, lines, and dots we pepper through our writing. They make life so much easier, and entertaining, no matter where we find them.