Quiet Please!


Ideas and story threads are shy, skittish creatures.  One must approach them carefully, on tiptoe, lest they bolt into the tall grasses, never to be seen again for months and months.  In frustrating times when all I see before me is a blank page, these ideas are mythical creatures like unicorns or flying reindeer – the stuff of legends and childhood fantasies.

When ideas do appear, any interruption or distraction must be kept at bay.  Concentration must be absolute and immediate.  I think the stalking of story ideas must be like stalking game.  I sit quietly, trying to block out street and household noise.  I doodle with my pen on paper, sometimes jotting down random words here and there.  Sometimes I close my eyes.  I am very still which is an abnormal state for me.  Much patience is required.  Suddenly, a thought flashes through my brain.  I write it down, even though it may make no sense; it may seem unrelated to anything I have on the go but there is something about this flash that makes it worth pursuing.  Call it instinct or a feeling in my gut…the idea flashes like the tail of a deer in tall savanna grasses.  This blip of a thought makes me sit up straight and hold my breath.

The worst thing to do at this point is force the idea into an empty space that needs filling; the idea needs to evolve organically, naturally.  I have to force myself to breathe, and to trust, and to just write.  I write furiously, quickly, until I have the idea firmly down, in my grasp.   Of course, the idea may slip away anyway.  It may disappear when I blink.  I might let it go because instead of a rare species of deer it turns out to be a freakishly large Beagle.

Waiting for ideas to form can be taxing or thrilling, depending.  If you’re on a photographic safari,on your arse in the tall grasses trying to get a picture of some shy, skittish beast, you could be there all day warding off things like poisonous snakes and carnivorous ants.  You might get one glimpse, a split second’s flash or you might get absolutely nothing.  Wild rare beasts don’t strut and pose for photographs like Hollywood starlets eager for their fifteen minutes.  Nor do perfectly formed story ideas present themselves at just the right moment or in just the right place.  Waiting for them to reveal themselves takes patience and the ability to deal with disappointment.

Ideas are capable of teasing us.  They come when they know damn well we can’t capture them.  Like when we’re asleep.  When I get a great idea in my sleep, the idea of rousing myself on purpose is loathesome.  Sleep is so precious to me.  I roll over and say, “I’ll remember it in the morning” and of course, that never happens.  Other great ideas leap around while I’m in the shower.  Once, I was so desperate to grab one, I tried to make notes about it with shaving gel on the bathroom sink.  It didn’t work.

Those who live with me have come to recognize (and heed) when I’m on idea safari.  My husband says I get a distracted, faraway look in my eyes.  I might be in the room but I’m not really there.  I’m creeping through the tall grasses, camera in hand, waiting for that perfect word picture to show itself to me.   It’s great sport indeed.


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