It always happens like this, dunnit?
I’m plugging away at my current project, having what I wish I could say was a trying time with it but which, if I’m honest, is giving me serious existential doubt not just about this particular project but about my entire experiment as a writer. (Seriously, I’m in the murky expanses of the mushy middle, wherein all the conflicts are established and now I have to go about finding ways to begin resolving them without bogging down the book in the taffy-like quicksand of extended exposition.)
Then I’m out for a run this morning.
Nothing special about this run except that I don’t have the sprouts in the stroller with me, so I’m running a little lighter than usual. I also don’t have to respond to the constant stream of three-year-old-out-in-the-world babble (what’s that? where’s that bird going? where’s mommy? can we go to the playground? how does that car move? i need to go potty. daddy, are you running? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?), so for the first time in a while, I got to run with a podcast. I get to think. (For the record, it’s The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.)
So I’m listening and I’m running, which is a great way to pass the miles, when all of a sudden, they mention something off the cuff, and it plows through my ear canal and smashes into my cerebellum like a six-mile meteor. It claws its way across my grey matter, sinks its glistening fangs in, and burrows in like a microscopic tick.
This is how ideas strike me.
I don’t think of a character and invent whole backstories and weird relationships and quirky mannerisms. I don’t fixate on places and ambience. I get a little snippet of something strange, something unexpected and quirky and strange, and I train the Max-Gro Overinflating Laser on it. What would the world be like if… and before I know it I’ve created, not individual characters, not even a central conflict, but a whole city, a whole society, a whole world wherein everything is colored, changed, tainted by the exponential possible implications of this tiny little seedling that just glanced off my consciousness.
And now it’s all I can think about.
I’m considering the characters that a world like this should be primarily focused on. I’m exploring a conflict that is possible in the real world but intensified by this new thing. In short, the idea is growing across my brain like kudzu across the side of my house, sinking its leafy tendrils into all the cracks and crevices, splitting open the siding, choking out the flowers I’m trying to cultivate for the project I’m, you know, trying to work on.
So I spent the fifteen minutes after my run, sweat still pouring from my everywhere (gotta love that humid Georgia weather), jotting down ideas and impressions, possible characters and conflicts, and every implication that I can think of for a world that includes this one little difference.
But I can’t abandon the current idea in favor of this one.
Because if I do that, then it’ll happen again; I’ll get halfway into writing the new novel and another new idea will strike, tempting and consuming, and I’ll abandon the new idea for the next big thing.
So this one goes on the pile for now. (The pile of potential projects I want to write is now… what… about four or five deep? And that’s ideas I’ve spent a good bit of time thinking about, considering whether they’d actually make for a good story, and determining that they would. This says nothing for the landfill of seedlings that strike and get immediately discarded, which are innumerable as lost rings in the ocean.)
It’ll be there waiting, when this one is done.
But the neat thing about this is, it has primed my creativity for the day, and I can’t wait to work on my current project now.
Creativity is weird like that.