This past week we went to the State Fair for the second time. (The first was on September 10th.) One thing I really like about the New Mexico State Fair is how varied it is. Jim and my version doesn’t involve the midway rides or over-priced junk food. It’s all about animals, art shows, and extremely cool demonstrations – sometimes of how to do things we’ve never heard of before.
Oh, so many, many ideas. I have been scribbling down things ever since. Some of these will become projects of their own. Others will fill in gaps in on-going stories. Still others will swirl around my imagination like the stars in a spiral galaxy, lighting up the void, taking shape from the pull of unseen forces around them.
On a less mystic note… The trend this year seemed to be guitars and dragons. Even the Fine Art building had both. We didn’t see any dragons playing guitar or any dragon-shaped guitars, but both are sort of cool ideas. (Scribble, scribble…)
We also saw a demonstration of animal event we didn’t even know existed until we stumbled upon it when we dropped by the equestrian arena. This was donkey snigging. Yep. You read that right. Donkey snigging turns out to be an event in which a handler guides a donkey (full-sized or miniature) through an obstacle course. Complexity is added in that the donkey is dragging an eight-foot long wooden pole. It’s oddly mesmerizing.
At least right now, I’m not putting any of these ideas to immediate use. But some of them are definitely setting off sparks. Why am I not encouraging them to light a fire? Because I’m currently working on something that I’d like to finish first. As I was saying to another writer when she mentioned how a hot new idea was trying to lure her from the project she wanted to finish, the problem is that the hot new idea is easy to get caught up in until the moment it becomes yet another unfinished project.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to being a writer of completed stories (or novels or plays or whatever) is the hot new idea. It’s so easy to write those first five or ten or whatever pages. What’s hard is sticking to it, keeping going, developing, honing, polishing, practicing. When someone says “I’ve written a hundred pages on my new novel. It’s the first of a trilogy. In fact, I have an entire twenty-book series mentally outlined!” I love the enthusiasm. I honestly do.
But I’m also thinking to myself… Coming up with all those scattered ideas is the easy part. Making them play out… That’s where the work comes in.
I’ve only taken one writing course. That was my senior year in college when I had an elective available. I didn’t learn anything from the course about the craft of writing that I hadn’t already figured out by reading lots of excellent stories by other writers. However, the tremendous service that course did for me was force me to finish stories.
Up to that point, I’d filled notebooks and stacks of paper with stories that I stopped working on when the white hot idea became an ember that needed fanning. Needing to finish because turning in a complete story was the assignment gave me the push I needed. And once I learned to finish, I had developed a skill that turned me from a “would be” writer into a writer.
Does this mean that every story idea must be pursued to conclusion? Not at all. Some ideas gutter out because once the writer begins to explore them, the writer realizes that what seemed like a great idea is actually a cool descriptive element (say that dragon playing a guitar) and that there isn’t actually a full story there.
But if the only reason the writer stops writing is because yet another hot new idea came burning across the mental sky, then some considering needs to be done as to whether this is a wise use of creative resources.
Next week I’m going to interview an author who had a white hot idea come searing across his creative sky, an idea so hot that he couldn’t let it go and had to start writing – even though he was immersed in another story. I’ll wait until then to tell you how that worked out.