At the SCBWI conference last year, a very funny children's book writer/illustrator named Mo Willems, who also writes for Sesame Street, brought up that old question so many writers hear: Where do you get your ideas?
Well, I've heard many responses to this question, which justly inspires sarcasm in writers, but his was the funniest. I won't be able to do it justice from memory, 6 months after the fact, but what he said essentially was that he had found a secret meadow where ideas graze like sheep, and whenever someone asks him this question he gets really suspicious, like they're going to try to find his meadow and poach his sheep!
I love that answer. Where DO ideas come from? Er, stardust and ether? Angels dreams sifting down to us from the heavens and squiggling in through our ears? Maybe we're born with a stash already inside us and we can either find them and use them or let them lie there like buried treasure forever -- in which case, would the coroner find them after we die and would he then be the absolute trove of unused ideas? Maybe he sells them on ebay. Maybe they're invisible butterflies and we have invisible nets, and they can be really elusive, or they can land right on your nose. Or maybe we're all witches and alchemists in our own right and we have to conjure them out of stones and potatoes and make something twinkling and rich out of them, like a big ewer of hot chocolate, sprinkled with gold dust. Yum.
I freaking love ideas. I love getting them and feeding them marshmallows and forcing them out of hiding. I have notebooks filled with little lovelorn ideas and grim gruesome ideas, with names of demons and lists of the kinds of moths that spin silk in the tiger preserves of Northern India. And if I find out by accident about weird wedding rites that happen there, I make note of it too. I'm a matchmaker of lonely ideas, hoping they'll meet and be soulmates and marry and have lots of little idea babies. Someone at the SCBWI (font of all writerly wisdom) said that you have to have 2 ideas to rub together to make a fire. LOVE that. So true. You can have a little fizz of an idea for years, then it can bump into this new idea and EXPLODE. Fabulous!
I get ideas from poems, fairy tales, words I find serendipitously in the dictionary when I'm looking up other words, from recipes and folk tales, from empty bottles of shampoo, from dried-out limes that got pushed to the back of the fridge. I love to pursue an idea down a dark avenue or through a labyrinth, or up into the sky on borrowed wings. I've written before about the "snick" I get when an idea settles into place -- it's euphoric. Sometimes I high-five myself, or take a little bow to myself. Or reward myself with chocolate.
The thing is, what's more fun that playing with ideas? I mean, really. There's this place where you can do anything, anything, anything. Sometimes I don't get why everyone doesn't do it, but I'm glad they don't, because it's hard enough to find a publisher as it is. Maybe I should make it seem less fun, so everyone doesn't jump into my swimming pool. Like how Northwesterners -- Oregonians and Washingtonians -- spread the doom and gloom of horrible Pacific NW weather ("It NEVER stops raining. Don't come!") just to keep Californians out. Forget everything I said above. Ideas are sly little bastards like roaches or rats, always gnawing on you. Go back to whatever you were doing before. It's nothing like a big mug of hot chocolate sprinkled with gold. Shhh. Keep your voice down. Scram.
More Sunday Scribblings here.