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The Write Material

I signed up for an online writing course to get me focused on finishing a short story or two. Didn't think I'd get tossed into Big Blogger (which is actually just one big, fun, silly creative writing exercise, innit?) or that I'd pick up another 10 hours of weekly work, teaching Kazakh VIPs (who are all near beginners). Better go rent Borat.

It's good to be busy.

I have to come up with two 250-word narrative summaries ... sketches of stories I'm going to work on over the next 14 weeks. Really, how frickin' hard should that be? And yet, as habit dictates, I have elevated 'making things more difficult than they really are' into an art form.

Rather than actually write something creative this morning, I opted to answer the question "where do your story ideas come from?"

I always freeze up on this one. I get overwhelmed by the choices, especially when it comes to a 'for submission' situation such as this. How do you know it's the "right one?"

I think and then and then rethink and then go into analysis paralysis. I forget that I have stacks of notebooks full of scribbles and half-baked ideas. Sometimes they're not even baked, more like splatters of batter on the page.

But I never know where those notebooks are when I need them. One would think one would be more organized. Ah, but that's the critic coming out saying, "Why start anything new again? It was all crap in the first place. Go have a run and forget about it for another day or so." And days become weeks, and then life gets in the way and I forget to look for the batter.

And then there are the two Nano drafts -- over a 100,000 words of rough material to pull from, to twist and to polish and maybe make something out of.

I forget that I have almost a year's worth of 200-word mini-stories on my blog, some of which could be fleshed out into proper stories. Oh, but is that cheating ... to flesh something old out and not come up with something new?

I forget that some of my best writing has come out of workshops where I sit with a notebook and a pen and the instructor says, write about "x" for the next 10 minutes ... go. Where are those notebooks, anyway?

I forget that I need to get out of my head and just let myself go and trust the process. Sometimes all you need to do is look at a random postcard and start writing. But which postcard? Oh yeah, the random one. But I don't like that one ... maybe the next one will be better.

Do any of you go through this, or do I need to adjust my medication?

So where do I get ideas? Sometimes from a prompt in a workshop. Or a spark that comes from free-writing. Maybe it's a line I overhear on the tube or a person that catches my fancy why on earth is she wearing that?.

There's a character I have in my head, a young girl whose mother is dead and father is a total loser. I saw her get off an airplane last year, accompanied by a flight attendant and watched her wait for someone to pick her up for 30 minutes. Broke my heart. I wrote a quick sketch about her and don't know where to go.

My Tuesday 200s often come to me in a flash, admittedly some more inspired than others. I build each one off a line/idea/image from the previous one. I end up pondering them for several days and think I'm never going to have another creative idea again. And then, on the day of my deadline, something will come to me. It may not be the final idea, but it gets me going.

One story I'll be working on during this class is about a young man who must get over his deathly fear of water in order to survive. He's recently discovered he's growing gills. The idea's been swimming (see what I did there?) in my head for a few months and I've made a few false starts. I have no idea any more where the original idea came from. Maybe a dream? I really don't recall.

I have no idea what my second story will be ... I'd like to do something from scratch, but I might recycle an old exercise (again, is that cheating?). Either way, I'm determined to come up with something over the weekend. I just have to remind myself that all I need to do is create a few signposts. I don't have to create a surveyor's map, clear the field, bulldoze the path and lay down the asphalt all in one go.

Starting always gets me in a dither.

Okay Bob, quit babbling about your neuroses and go sit in the park and start free-writing.

As Mary Chapin Carpenter says, "accidents and inspiration lead you to your destination."