WRITERS AT WORK – Care and Feeding of Ideas (Part 3)

Hi everyone,

Here are the latest remarks from Sandy Asher for WRITERS AT WORK, the serial conversation between Sandy and me about the work habits of writers. We plan to bring you this chat on (most) Tuesdays. Sandy led off two weeks ago, responding to a general question that we dubbed “The care and feeding of ideas.” I responded last Tuesday.

Our guidelines are that we are each alloted one extra opportunity to add or clarify; then we’ll move on to another frequently asked question. Today I’m posting Sandy’s second response to the question and my second response will go up next Tuesday.

As always, comments and suggestions are not only welcome, they are encouraged!

To help you review or catch up on what has been going on, here are the first two links. https://davidlharrison.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/introducing-writers-at-work

September 14, 2010
Topic 1: Care and Feeding of Ideas
Response 3: Sandy

Hello, David –I totally relate to the notepads everywhere – and the random scraps of paper when a notepad can’t be grabbed quickly. I must say I’ve never tried writing on toilet tissue. But I don’t rule it out. So far, my most unusual stand-in for a notepad has been the back of one my son’s Bar Mitzvah invitations.

I also second the motion for writing those notes in enough detail that you recognize the idea when you come back to it. I once found a scrap of paper in my “ideas” file that said, “Laura – brown hair.” I had no memory of having written it, or of anyone named Laura, or of why her brown hair might have been significant. But even this snippet has come in handy, as a prime example of too little information!

It occurred to me when I reread my comments on “mulling” that I’d never mentioned where those ideas come from that I mull. From my life, of course. What else do I have to draw on? But my life is more than just what happens to me directly. What I observe about others counts as part of my personal experience, and that includes what I read about in books and newspapers, what I see on TV and in the movies, what I overhear on subway platforms and in waiting rooms. Whatever the source, the best ideas grow out of things that hit me hard – that frighten, worry, anger, amuse, surprise, intrigue, or fascinate me. Those are the ideas that won’t turn loose until I make something of them and share what I’ve made.

In my book WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?, I compare writers to oysters and ideas to the grain of sand that gets under an oyster’s shell. The sand irritates the oyster; the oyster deals with that irritation by coating the grain of sand. The result is something others consider beautiful and valuable – a pearl – but for the oyster, it’s relief.

I consider it a good sign when a possible project scares me a little. Or even a lot. That tells me I’m moving beyond my comfort zone and taking on a real challenge rather than playing it safe and repeating myself.

Back to you, David!

As a reminder, Sandy also plans to post these conversations on the America Writes for Kids website. Here’s a link. (http://usawrites4kids.drury.edu ).