Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Idea Generation

by Chris McGinty

It’s sort of interesting to me how I write all the time, but when I sit down to try to think of something to write for the blog, and occasionally when I try to think of something to write for other projects, I sit there and wonder what could I write that would be interesting enough.

I think Nathan and I are going to brainstorm some topic ideas tomorrow at our meeting, which will be good I think, but I have a few topic ideas already bouncing around in my head, and they aren’t getting written. Let’s examine this for a moment.

I’ve been writing for… well, more years than you can imagine, and to be honest I’ve never run out of ideas. Ever. This isn’t to say I don’t get writer’s block. I read an article, I’m pretty sure it was in Writer’s Digest, which is a great magazine, a long time ago about what writer’s block really is. It suggested that it’s more of a belief that you have nothing good to write than it is an actual lack of ideas. Many writers suggest that you pick a time each day, and just sit in front of computer, typewriter, or notebook, and do nothing else but write. Don’t worry if it’s good or not, just write. Or do nothing, your choice. But for that amount of time you either write, or sit there.

It’s really good advice. It has no bearing on my life, but it is good advice.

I had an idea recently while reading an article about these novels that were written in text installments. These novels were posted up, as is, to message boards straight from the phone, using the maximum of 140 characters, or whatever it is. It’s a neat idea, probably not something I would do, sort of. I realized I could write my thoughts about these novels on one of these blogs, but I haven’t yet, because it didn’t seem like it would be an interesting enough read. Here are my thoughts about it.

1. When I was at my guard post at a Fort Worth restaurant walking the parking lots to help prevent break car break ins, not to stop them mind you, but merely to deter, I had just my phone to keep me busy. I used the text function to send a sentence or two to my email at a time. This was not like the novels I was reading the article about. What I wrote was usually a mess that every couple of weeks I’d go into my email and clean up. The thing is that I wrote a lot out there in spite of the inferior tools I had. More about this in a minute.

2. A long time ago at another guard post, working for a company that I took far less seriously, I started another idea. The reason for the link above is that that segment was based on how I got fired from the job I’m discussing. I didn’t have the capability back then to browse the internet on my phone, or send texts to my email. I got an idea for a book called “Notepad” and the basic thought was to use the 20 notepad slots to write a mini-essay. I figured that if I did this every time I was at my guard post that after a while I would have a collection that would reach book length. The problem I ran into was that it meant that every day after work I would need to go home and transcribe those 20 slots into a file, so I could have them open the next night. The problem is that I had children to get to and from school, and sleep I needed to get. So the idea never made it far.

So you can see why I haven’t written a blog about the “text novels” article I read. It just doesn’t seem too compelling. But the idea was there. That’s more what writer’s block is as I see it, and as many professional writers see it.

So one thought tying into the writing of novels; I haven’t completed either of the two I’m writing yet, but I have done far more than I’ve ever done in my life, bringing two novels to about two-thirds completion each. The thought is on the concept of filler.

Filler in writing is sometimes defined as extra stuff that really doesn’t help to further the story, the characters, or the setting. It just is there to fill the pages. In music it’s a little more dodgy, because some of us like ten minute solos, but sometimes you will hear the term “filler track” which refers to a song that hasn’t been as polished as the other songs on an album, and was likely just pushed out real quick to meet a time and track requirement.

There is another type of filler, one that shouldn’t be taken so blithely. When you’re writing a novel you have your major scenes, and then you have the stuff that gets you from one of those scenes to the next. As writer’s block goes, this is probably the one that gets me the most; coming up with things that aren’t central to the plot, but help to further the story, the characters, or the setting.

It’s strange that a term that usually suggests a lazy approach to the creative process can actually be one of the toughest challenges.

I suppose that I’ve said enough now. If I have any advice to anyone facing writer’s block it’s the following. First of all just write. Even the quick telling of trying to shoot a scene with Jonathan somewhere as noisy as a war zone, will give you practice with narrative, even if it’s only so-so writing. Second, outlines help. They don’t have to be overly complicated crap like you learned in school, just enough to house the major points you have. Third, brainstorm. Just start listing ideas. Don’t worry if they’re good, just list. When you’ve found one that seems good, or even good enough, brainstorm it for a while.

Writing is mostly taking action.

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