Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Dry Spell

Some writers have "a million ideas" and "merely lack time to develop them." I am not one of those writers. Yes, ideas drift randomly across my brain every time I read a newspaper or SCIENCE NEWS or even PEOPLE (in the dentist's office), but they are not really strong enough to write about. More like, "Hmmm, how would that be if...no, that's dumb." Or trite. Or something I'm not really interested in. So when I do get an idea that excites me, it's an event and I write the story or novel.

Right now I have no such idea.

The fall-back activity, which I'm currently engaged in, is called "noodling around." It consists half of sitting on the sofa with a clipboard on my knees, pen in hand, and starting snippets of possible stories -- a character sketch, a dialogue exchange, one of those germs that rubbed off from SCIENCE NEWS. The hope is that something will catch fire. So far, nothing has. The other half of noodling around consists of fill-in distractions: moving furniture around. Cleaning under the sofa. Taking the dog for very long walks. Alphabetizing spice jars.

I hate this period. And, of course, the worse thing about it is always the fear: What if NO idea ever presents itself to me again? The fact that that hasn't happened before is no consolation. What if it does this time?

Then what?


Panait Catalin said...

you can:
- teach others how to write (maybe in a college even);
- critique the novels written by others (maybe for a news paper);

- if everything fails, get a lot of cats :)

how about writing about a character that wants to be left alone and do nothing. he did his job and now he just wants to retire. but the world is not ready to let him go.

because in the end, it's not enough to do great things (save the world, invent time travel, contact the aliens, ...) and then retire.

you have to do great things and then mentor the next generation to do greater things.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Every writer hits those spots, Nancy. I've written over 100 lyrics, and every time I finish one I think glumly, "Well, that's it for Little Blues. The well is dry and he's all tapped out."

Hasn't happened. I carry a Moleskine notebook everywhere for 2reasons:
1) Anything that comes to me--verse, line, even a title--goes in the book. Otherwise it will be forgotten. We forget. The idea could be E=mc2. If it's not written down, it will be forgotten
2) It sends an encouraging message to the mysterious well of creativity. "Thanks! Keep sendin' 'em up!"

Works for me, anyway.

Gary said...

I hate those periods of idea-lessness. Very frustrating.

TheOFloinn said...

I carry a Moleskine notebook everywhere for 2reasons

But are those reasons for it to be a Moleskine?

+ + +

In problem solving training we teach a variety of techniques. One is BruteThink, one variant of which is to take two random words and put them together, then brainstorm on possible meanings.

Another is the Idea Box. Make a list of all the features of the product - in this case, the story. Then brainstorm independently a list of alternatives to each feature. Finally, using a random process, select one alternative from each feature and put them together. Does it suggest anything? What if you tweaked it a little. Zwicky at Cal Tech (iirc) said that engineers tended to take baby steps out into design space from the designs they were familiar with, and the Idea Box was a way of parachuting into some random location in design space and taking a new perspective.

A writer, I forget who, used to write all those interesting tidbits on file cards, one tidbit per card. Then he put them in a box. Now and then he would stir up the box and pull out some cards and see if they suggested a story.

I note a strong resemblance among the three methods. The Great Inhibitor is timidity, playing it safe. Using random processes to produce a seed of an idea bypasses that inhibition. Mozart used to use a set of three dice to randomly generate chord progressions.

The Irish, of course, used whiskey.

Chris Köhler said...

Well Nancy, if you get bored or stuck you can always come back to Leipzig again and let us benefit from what you can teach us. You will always be welcome. I'd recommend you anytime -- in fact, I already have.

Bryan H. Bell said...

I've never used it, but I've heard good things about the software package DramaticaPro. It uses a non-linear approach to exploring story possibilities and teasing a story structure out of them.

Nancy Kress said...

Thank you, Chris. Panait, I do teach, often, and you're right -- it is satisfying to pass on craft to the next generation. But it is not enough for me.
Today -- more noodling, some of which employs versions of what others have suggested here, although not in such an organized fashion.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Well, the Ofloinn, I like Moldskine notebooks 'cause they're sturdy. I've had this one for a couple of years. It's a little beat around the edges, but shows no signs of falling-apart. Unlike its owner.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Nancy, in the current issue of AMERICAN SONGWRITER, there's an interview with Neil Young.

Jaan Uhelszki: Are you ever worried another song might not show up?

Neil Young: Well, it always has showed up, so I just respect it. I think if the songs come in big groups, I'll try to get 'em all. One shows up, I'll try to get it.
I won't ignore any but I'm not going to go looking for it. I don't have time to find them. So a song has to knock on the door and say, "Here I am." But I got my eyes open, so if it happens, it happens. I'll be there."

And in the same issue, an interview with Loretta Lynn.

Paul Zollo: When you come up with an idea, do you always write it do away?

Loretta Lynn: If I don't, I'll never remember it. I've got to write it down right then, or I'll lose it.

Ah-deer being,
1) Trust your talent.
2) Carry a notebook.

Trust your talent, Nancy. You don't have a shelf full of Hugos and Nebulas because you're a flash-in-the pan writer. If The Muse is takling a short break, you take a breather too.

She'll be back.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

That should be Zollo asking Loretta, "do you always write it down right away?"

liebja said...

Own the fear. Write in your notebook about that fear. Be extremely detailed - you're afraid not only... but that never...

I do that when the periods come when I can't finish something because of what turns out to be the same, garden-variety fear I've had before. Respecting it enough to write about it, and delve, in writing, into why it has decided to show up now, and what it is trying to tell me NOW - works for me.

Then, sometimes, I go back to my notebooks - and find it IS the same old stuff, and that reading about old fear and writing about new fear seems to get past it.

qiihoskeh said...

"It is some sort of sortilege involving cartilage."