A few nights ago, I took my customary running leap into bed (we have one of those old, four-posters…and, yes, I know there are stools for beds, but they look too much like church kneelers, which I find disturbing next to my bed. But that’s another story). Just as my cheek met the cool pillow, an idea charged through my sleepy stupor into my brain.
A brilliant idea. Brilliant, I tell you. Nothing less than brilliant. Enough to hip-shove The Hunger Games into Twilight. Enough to make Brad Pitt want my phone number to ask if he could play the male lead. Enough to tell Emma Stone she couldn’t bribe me for the female lead.
Only, I can’t tell you the idea.
Why? Because I can’t remember it. Because I didn’t drag my brilliant butt out of bed to write it down. Because I didn’t lean over and risk a head injury to find the paper and pen I store in my nightstand to scribble the idea.
I should know better. Well, I do know better. As soon as I hear my brain whisper, “Oh, this one is so A-MAZING, you won’t forget it,” I need to make one of those Bella Swan Cullen new-vampire dashes to write it. Unfortunately, unlike Stephenie Meyer, I do not wake up from a dream with a four-book series in my head.
So, where do my ideas originate?
In the most boring of circumstances. Like one day, after retrieving mail from my mailbox, I wondered, “What if a woman went out to get her mail and never returned? Or what if she walked out in one year, but when she walked back into her house, twenty years had passed?” (BTW…if I want to watch my adult children practice synchronized eye rolling, all I have to do is mention this idea.)
Those two words, “what if?” can launch me into writer orbit. But I have to be willing to turn ideas inside out and upside down. I have to muzzle the editor in my brain who says, “Go you…you’ve just thought of the dumbest premise in the known universe.”
Years and years ago, I attended a conference and delighted in listening to Georgia Heard talk about her recent book, For the Good of the Earth and Sun:Teaching Poetry. What I most remember is her talking about poetry constantly surrounding us, that it’s everywhere…from the worn steps outside your grandmother’s house to drinking coffee with a friend.
And while those may not be ideas that carry a novel into hundreds of pages, they’re a beginning. Even poems marinate in my brain. When I read “Patterns” by Amy Lowell or “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins, I just know a story is there waiting to happen.
If there is anything I’ve learned, it’s this: whatever the idea, however ridiculous and goofy it may seem at the time, I must write it down.
It’s a gift. And it doesn’t always keep on giving.