Is there a better metaphor for a writer’s head than a basket full of eggs?
You have all these ideas rattling around up there. Poorly formed, fragile little things, each one the seed of something incredible and amazing; each one the proto-soup that can — through a process indistinguishable from literal magic — turn into either a living, breathing, existing thing or your overcooked, barely-edible breakfast.
The chicken squirts the egg into the world, full of goop and the building blocks of a fuzzy little baby chick, something it in no way resembles. This is your story at first conception: a seedling, a possibility, an otherwise inert lump of fats and possibilities.
Then it goes into incubation: the mother cares for the egg, shields it from harm and from the elements, warms it with the heat of her own body. So, too, must you protect your fledgling idea. A stiff breeze can scatter it like ash, a judgmental word from a friend can shatter it to pieces (that would never work!), and even your own self-doubt can cause the hapless critter to wither and die (I just don’t have the time, I don’t know how it would work, It’s too big/stupid/much-like-this-other-thing/cliche). It needs nurturing. It needs shelter. It needs to live in the secret heart of the writer for a while before it comes to light.
But one day, the incubation is over, the alchemy of life has worked its magic on the bundle of plasma and protein, and the egg begins to jolt. To judder. The chick within stretches and grows and pushes outward against the walls of its prison — walls it has outgrown — and goes casting for daylight. And it succeeds! First the beak comes thrusting through, then the whole head, and soon it’s nothing but wings and feet and feathers, and hey holy carp, the little monster is walking on its own. That moment comes with the story too: one day it can hardly abide the sunlight and your own doubts about it, the next it’s got legs of its own and it’s not only walking without support, it’s running in its race to be told, and it’s all you can do to keep up with it. Sure, it still stumbles, and sure, its wings aren’t fully-formed enough to fly, its feathers not developed enough to insulate it. But it’s alive, and there’s no stopping it.
With time, it grows; it learns to walk without stumbling, it learns how and where to find food, it even learns to fly (awkwardly) a little bit at a time. This, too, is your story: the longer you work with it, the more you get a feel for what works, the more it feels like the story is doing much of its own heavy lifting. It tells you when things aren’t right. It can solve problems for itself if you let it.
And eventually, that little baby chick gets to the point where she can have eggs of her own, and the whole process begins anew. And just like that, your own story will spawn ideas of its own; ideas related not just to the squawking, squalling storyworld it lives in, but worlds unto themselves, ideas to be incubated and saved for another time, another place.
But what if your idea isn’t meant to be a chicken? Well, some ideas aren’t cut out for it. And those ideas are food. Crack them open, extract the useful bits, stir them into a bowl with some other stories, cook off what results, and see if any of it is edible. Because an egg — or an idea — that goes unhatched and uncooked will pretty soon start to stink up the joint.
And now, just because I enjoyed it last week, a list of egg-related writing metaphors.
If you want to make an omelet, you’ve got to break some eggs. Applies for characters in the story — sometimes you’ve just got to kill one or erase him completely — as well as ideas you thought were awesome at the beginning and that have turned into dog vomit along the way. Let ’em go.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Commit too fully to one idea — or even to one aspect of an idea — and you will inevitably be disappointed, because it doesn’t always work, and it definitely doesn’t always work out the way you expect.
Walking on eggshells. Sometimes you proceed with reckless abandon, sometimes you have to slow down and measure every step. Nothing wrong with this every now and then, as long as you don’t write the whole story like that.
And finally, my favorite egg-related moment in literature. From A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry:
Ruth: How do you want your eggs?
Walter: Any way but scrambled.
Ruth: (Scrambles eggs.)
And later in that scene:
Walter: Man say to his woman: I got me a dream. Woman say: eat your eggs. Man say: I got to take hold of this here world, baby! Woman say: eat your eggs and go to work. Man say: I got to change my life, I’m choking to death, baby! And his woman say: your eggs is getting cold.
A lovely snapshot of the dreamer against the pragmatist.
How else is an idea like an egg? Let me know in the comments!
This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.