Those Ideas Before They Float Away
By Sue Lick
Ideas are like soap
bubbles. They can pop or float away so easily. Then they're gone forever.
Buy a 50-cent bottle of Mr.
Bubbles, fill the plastic wand with suds and blow. Bubbles big and small run out
into the air. Some fall to the ground, some fly for a moment, then burst, some
land on your shirt or a tree limb and break, leaving a wet spot that quickly
fades. But a few big bubbles catch the wind and ride higher and higher, up past
houses, past the trees, and disappear into the sky, going on forever. Those are
the bubbles that make it worthwhile, but when we dip our wands into the soapy
liquid, we don't know if we will get a little bubble that sputters and breaks or
a grand bubble that lives forever.
So it is with ideas. We can
find them everywhere, they cost nothing, and most last only an instant, but you
never know when that grand idea will emerge from the suds, so you need to
capture every one long enough to set it free and see if it flies.
Ideas are the raw materials
from which we write. Without ideas, we sit speechless at our desks, wondering
why we thought we wanted to be writers. A popular sitcom saying these days is,
"I got nothing." If the writer doesn't collect the ideas that come her
way, that's what she has: nothing.
Ideas can be coaxed out of
the air. If you are very quiet and very welcoming, you may be able to sneak up
on the beginnings of a story, a poem, an essay or an article. Writing prompts
and exercises can help summon ideas. You know how they work: Pick a random word
out of the dictionary and write about it for 15 minutes. Or, finish this
sentence: "When she opened the door . . . " or, "What's the most
important lesson your mother taught you?" And so on. These can lead to
wonderful things, but it's like having to hook your battery up to a charger to
start the engine. How much better if we come to our desks armed with a pile of
ideas ready to be written?
Where do we find ideas?
Absolutely everywhere. You can gather them like kindling, quickly amassing more
ideas than you need to set your words on fire. You can find them in your work,
your hobbies, the people you meet, or just driving down the street. Story ideas
can come from the newspaper, the church bulletin, your club newsletter, a casual
conversation with a friend, or a bumper sticker on the car in front of you on
the freeway. All you have to do is open your mind to the possibilities, and you
become an idea magnet.
Look around the room where
you are sitting right now. I'll gaze at my office for a minute. Computer: I have
sold several articles on computer problems. New equipment, virus protection,
radiation coming from the monitor, carpal tunnel syndrome, or the software
genius who invented the "Dogz" screen saver all could lead to
publishable articles. You could write about high-speed Internet. What is it?
Should you get it? Is it available in your area? Telephones raise other ideas:
how to beat the high rates, the value of caller ID, answering machines vs.
voicemail, how to get rid of telephone salespeople.
Turn something in your
office into fiction. A woman reads her e-mail and suddenly screams, "Oh my
God!" What is in that message? Good news or bad? How will it change her
As I write, I'm drinking
herbal tea (Red Zinger), which raises a whole other area of article
possibilities: tea, coffee, lattés, the local coffee shop and everything in it,
caffeine addiction. How about a short story which takes place over afternoon
tea, or at a Japanese tea ceremony, or at Starbucks? Tea and coffee evoke
different cultures, different atmospheres. Can you write a poem that begins with
the first sip? “As the dark brew burns my tongue . . .”
Look out the window. I have
double-paned glass, required because of our cold weather and the need to
conserve energy. That's a whole other kettle of stories. It's cold and damp here
on the Oregon coast, so we could write articles about ice, rain, snow, allergies
to mold and mildew, wood stoves, studded tires, rust-proofing the car,
storm-watching, or chimney sweeps. We could take a fictional character into the
midst of a drenching rainstorm. How does it feel? How does she react? What if
he's standing on the beach on a rare sunny day watching a boat head toward the
Visit the mall, the
airport, or a church-- anyplace where people gather-- and look around. What
might that couple be saying to each other? Where is that boy with the backpack
and the guitar going and why does he look so worried? What might be happening
with that man the security guards are inspecting with the x-ray wand? Add
imagination to the information coming from your senses, and the ideas will never
If something in your life
is bothering you so much that you find it hard to think of anything else, write
about that. If it's important to you, other people will be interested, too.
One idea leads to another,
like bubbles coming out together. Beginning writers worry about running out of
ideas, but if you open up your mind to the possibilities, then that will never
happen. The trick is to catch them before they disappear.
Never trust your memory.
All too often what seems like a marvelous idea at midnight is gone in the
morning. Keep writing supplies by the bed, in the car, in your purse or pocket,
and wherever else you spend a lot of time. I get ideas in the shower, in the
kitchen doing dishes, driving my car, walking the dog, even watching television.
Something about moving away
from the desk and paying attention to other things causes ideas to come sneaking
out. Write them down. If you are in a situation where you can't write, such as
driving the car, tell your ideas to a tape recorder. Telephone them into your
own voicemail. Do whatever you have to do to hold onto an idea until you have
time to sit down at your desk with it and see where it goes. Even if most ideas
turn out to be like the little bubbles that break as soon as they hit the air,
don't let them go. You never know which bit of nonsense will turn out to be the
bubble that floats all the way to heaven.
Sue Fagalde Lick has published three books and countless articles, along with short stories, essays and poems. She lives with her husband Fred and dog Sadie in Newport, Oregon. Read about her books and classes at http://www.suelick.com.
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