Where they come from…and where they go

Of course, I am talking about ideas. They are those tricky little things that we can’t have enough of, that tend to show up at the weirdest times—like when we are washing dishes or mowing the lawn—and disappear about the time you are ready to use them.

My good friend and fellow PUC alum Sam Vigil asked the profound question, how do you capture those great ideas you get from reading and promptly stealing other people’s work? Do you have some special container somewhere—a tin can perhaps—that you put them in, allowing them to grow and/or fester until the time comes to use them?

Well, yes, Virginia, there is such a tin can. It’s called my computer. I keep files there with my most promising ideas listed. When an idea first comes to me, I usually mull it over for a while, then either discuss it with someone or dismiss it as a casual fancy. When the idea comes a second time, it’s usually time to consider that it might have some merit. That’s when I write it down.

Usually my first entry is just a sentence or two on the plot or the situation that came to me. I write it down and promptly give myself permission to forget it. When it comes back a third or fourth time, or if another idea seems to complement the original idea, I start fleshing it out.

When does it become a story? When I can actually start to see the situation. When it goes beyond words to images. As I tell my students, you have to see it in your head before you can recreate it in someone else’s head.

Unfortunately, the realities of writing have put me more than once in the position of having to write before I had a firm grasp of what I was writing. Not a good place to be, and can lead to some very frustrating times. The ideal is to know what you are going to say before you say it. And ideally, that’s where you will always be.

In any case, that’s where I put my ideas, my bank for holding these wisps of inspiration, until I get to the point where I can use them. I hope that helps.