Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ask a Writer: Good Idea Hunting

It's a new segment on Adventures in Hypergraphia: Ask a writer! Where I talk about my writing practises and habits.

If you're a writer and have your own answer to any of the questions, or if you'd like to add your own question to the table for a possible future article, sound off in the comments!

This. This thing. With the stickers and the pretty artwork I snagged off Tumblr, is my current notebook.

(Best notebook I've ever had, actually. What with the pen holder and all.)

The old adage is true; I can't make ideas come flying to me. Forcing them has never given me anything but depressive swings and headaches. But what they forgot to mention is that I can always carry a gun to shoot them out of the sky with.

If you're at all serious about being a writer, you need to carry some way to record your thoughts with you at all times.

I'm a writer. I need to carry something to record ideas. It needs to be with me when I go shopping. When I take a drive. When I go to visit a friend. When I go across the street for frozen yogurt. When I'm going to the movie theater. When I step out to get the mail. Whenever I end up on my first date, I'm going to be carrying some form of paper and pen with me the entire time. I'm dead serious about this. This is what writers do. Those reporters in movies with the tape recorders? It's the same principle. They never know when something interesting will happen around them, and neither do I.

And it's not something to be stingy with. I can't wait for an idea to be developed enough or be sure that it's even a good idea to write it down. I have to abuse my pretty notebook. If a notebook is too fancy or expensive for me to feel comfortable writing anything in it, like a gift or whatever, I won't use it for this. I need to be ready to write so much that smell the ink coming off the pages. I need to be ready to take weird notes that only make sense to me. I need to be ready to, gasp, draw on lined paper if a doodle will more quickly portray what's going through my head.

I can't wait until I'm in a “normal” place to write, either. There are times when I'll get an idea in the middle of Target and end up wedged against the side of an aisle while carts scrape by me because I need to write something down, and people are staring at me because it looks like I'm taking notes on them (and occasionally, I might be. That hairstyle would be great for a character I've been thinking about...) This is a pretty regular occurrence, actually. Ideas are not convenient.

Even waiting for a thought to sound fully developed or a isn't always an option. If I hear a good name for a character, think up a line of dialog that makes me laugh, or get a “what if this character...?” that I might decide I want an answer for, the pen goes to the notebook. I'd rather have an incomplete thought or a scene that doesn't go anywhere than nothing. I've had plenty of random snippets that I didn't have a place for eventually come together and make up a bigger picture. It's a lot like collecting puzzle pieces.

I don't run out of ideas because I capture any part of them I can as soon as I can, and I work from there.

When I keep myself open and keep writing things down, I find myself with more ideas than I know what to do with.

There are also some other things I do to help me keep ideas, but that's just me:

-My notebook is a mess. Doodles and ideas and quotes and website URLs all worm their way in, so for me, with “one liner” ideas that don't have much development and I don't plan to work on right away, it helps to keep a separate, more organized story idea notebook. I currently have two of them. I number the pages and note in the front what pages contain ideas for what fandoms. Just, if you want to do something like this, avoid the trap of spending more time organizing than you do writing.

-Prompt lists are fantastic things. If I'm stuck and don't feel like working on anything in my idea book, I can just start typing something from a prompt with a randomly selected character or whatever. Even if it comes out as total crap, there's usually some springboard somewhere in it. Nothing gets writing done like writing.

You can't be too meticulous about writing things down, really.