Saturday, January 13, 2007

Hey, where'dya catch that idea?

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.

23 comments:

Paris Parfait said...

Your post is delicious and magical, bursting with whimsy and ideas! Love it - here's to hot chocolate sprinkled with gold!

Alexandra S said...

Now that is one wonderful post! And who are those paintings by??? they are so, so beautiful!

Michelle Fry said...

I haven't written my Sunday Scribbling yet but I'm feeling more inspired now that I've ready yours. I think you could craft a great poem with the idea from these lines you wrote:
"I'm a matchmaker of lonely ideas, hoping they'll meet and be soulmates and marry and have lots of little idea babies."

[a} said...

You really love chocolate, dontcha?

Ideas about ideas about ideas. Like a mirror reflected in a mirror reflected....

This blog is so much FUN to read.
xoxo

Judy Wise said...

You've done it again, clever girl. You just write circles around the rest of us.

Sophie said...

Been thinking about this prompt for some time now. Waiting for a scribbling idea to pop into my mind :)

Reading your post and the question 'Where do ideas come from' triggered my brain into thinking of an idea for this weeks prompt...coming soon :)

Sophie

Anna said...

I'm a matchmaker of lonely ideas, hoping they'll meet and be soulmates and marry and have lots of little idea babies.
Yes! That's exactly it! I love it~ And I also love that I was debating whether I should have some hot chocolate just before popping over to peek at your blog. Now I know for sure. I will be having some, and soon. I don't have a ewer in my cabinet, but I suppose I can make do with my new Cheshire cat mug. (The cat disappears when something hot (like chocolate!) is poured into the mug, leaving only Alice and the infamous grin.)

megg said...

Hi there! I am w/o internet AGAIN for at least three days! We have just gotten back and I have snuck over to Mark's parents' house to use their internet for SunScrib (WHICH didn't work properly for some reason but I'll sneak over again later) and I wanted to quickly while I am here check on you & I read back a little and realized you have been going through it with Shiloh and I wanted to tell you that I am retroactively thinking about you!! I am sending her healing thoughts!

P.S. I loved this post - LOVED IT!! I'm going to come back and read it again when I am safely on my own computer again! Who did the painting of the girls with nets? It's gorgeous!!

I miss you! Will write as SOON as I can!!!!!!!!!!

Becca said...

What a wonderful, fun post! I love your descriptions of ideas -of feeing them marshmallows, of marrying them off - simply delightful!

And thank you for reminding me of all the ways I can open myself up to ideas all around me. (Sorry, you went and let the secret out of the box!)

Great post!

Marilyn said...

Wonderful post! And love the IDEA of needing 2 ideas to rub together to light the fire...so true!

luzie said...

i loved reading your post! :)

Janie Hickok Siess, Esq. said...

Wow. That was very powerful. I am going to have to come back and re-read this post again.

Right now . . . 24 is starting! :-)

Neil said...

I love the poetry of that post, and I've thought about that question myself. For some reason, though, I have a real fear of exploring this issue, because I think if you demystify things too much, you can end up losing the supposedly magical ability to come up with new ideas.

Sophie said...

you deserve chocolate for this
enchanting "smile" of a post -

hugs!

Amber said...

Hehehehe!

Super job! You do make it look fun, and I KNEW the weather was not that bad!

:)

Anonymous said...

I love the "sparking" of ideas coming together-- woot. And, that etheral painting of the girls with the butterfly nets- gorgeous.

~bluepoppy

Frida World said...

What a fabulous, fun post.

I already discovered the truth behind all those attempts to keep the rest of us out of Oregon, now I'm heading for the meadow of ideas. If you want to keep any of those sheep you better paint them blue so I'll know to leave them alone.

Hmmm, hot chocolate.

x

Paulette said...

Love love LOVE this post Laini! You have such a wonderful way of making everything seem mystical....LOVE it! And such a way you have with words! :) And thanks for reminding me of all the unusual places we can find inspiration...I seriously needed that right now. :D

Tinker said...

Hee hee - Too late to close the meadow gate now...

I love how you wrap your words all up in spun gold and dip them in chocolate (hmm, I seem to have an obsession with chocolate today, I think this is the third chocolate dipping comment I've left today. I'm taking that as a sign - have to go melt some chocolate now...)

Mardougrrl said...

I love this post so much (I keep writing 'posy' and it DOES feel like a posy of a post...a lovely generous flower bloom of a post).

Seriously, this post gave ME the snick of inspiration...of the idea fitting perfectly into place.

I'm SO going to fly to Portland and plant myself at your feet, Guru Laini!

xoxo,
M

deirdre said...

I'm going to print this out and tuck it into my notebook for the days I haven't got any inspiration at all. You're just magic.

deirdre said...

I'm going to print this out and tuck it into my notebook for the days I haven't got any inspiration at all. You're just magic.

KG said...

I smiled the entire time I read your post. I think I'll go back and read it again. :)