Story ideas are a funny thing. Sometimes they drift by and catch my eye. Other times they have to smack me upside the head a while before I latch on. Some ideas I carry with me, tucked into a safe place, even though I’m not ready for them yet.
I have a couple of test phases that an idea must pass.
There’s the initial okay, but what would it look like? That’s usually a pretty quick pass, a lot of whimsy entertains me a moment, then floats away to someone else.
Once an idea starts following me around, it’s harder to ignore. It starts bumping into songs I hear on the radio, nudging me while I’m reading, sitting on the counter while I make dinner. Once it’s taken on that kind of gelatinous shape, I’ll play with it a bit. Try to get it to firm up.
I may or may not be actually writing at this point. Sometimes an idea never gets past the mulling. Sometimes I go with it and write, then stop to test.
Eventually, if there’s something shiny enough, it moves into the walk test-phase. If an idea comes on a walk with Luna and me, it gets a lot more undivided attention. It gets to explore and try various forms and costumes. I almost always head straight to my notebook the minute I walk in the door. But sometimes I invite an idea along and it doesn’t show up. Or, it wanders away when Luna stops to sniff. Or maybe it gets thrown away in the plastic bag. All I know, is it isn’t with me when I get home.
But if it kept my attention during the walk, then usually I have some questions. Some reason I’m still doubting its staying power. Or my ability to do something interesting with it. Or why it’s not that great, really. That’s when the shower test comes in. Whether it’s a metaphoric washing the sludge away or some other kind of magic, the shower is often my fix-it place. There’s a reason Eureka was born in the shower. That’s when I get really excited.
At some point, a story has to pass the telling test. I avoid this stage for a while. I know how deadly it can be. But eventually I imagine telling various people in my life what I’m writing about. My writer friends will go along with most anything. What about the other important people in my life? This is a hard line to see, sometimes. And sometimes I’ll pursue something I can’t imagine anyone – or a particular someone – knowing that I’m writing. Because I have to. But, for me, at some point, if I’m going to spend a lot of time with something, I need to know I’m okay with sending it out into the universe. Even if it never gets read, I need to know I’m willing for it to exist.
I recently had to banish something new. I’d spent a lot of time thinking and I had a lot pages written. It had passed a lot of tests – but, if I’d been honest, it was always just barely squeaking by. I just wanted it to work. I was going to will it into being the right thing. It was a hard letting go. I worried I’d never have another idea again.
As soon as I mentally threw it away, something new drifted in.
Sarah Wones Tomp
WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK
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