Ideas strike like sparks. A cliché? Sure, yet that’s exactly what ideas are: the synapses in your gray matter sparking. Maybe it’s more complicated than that, but often ideas, even good ones, happen . . . and then they have happened. They are and then they are not.
Ideas are fleeting.
As writers we try to harness them by writing little notes in our journals, thumbing and talking into our iPhones and Blackberrys, or emailing ourselves. Always, we strive to freeze them in time, into words, saving ideas for later. But what happens later?
Like me, I’m sure you have pages and pages and/or files and files of notes you have never used. I know. We used some. What about the rest? Some of you are probably thinking, if the ideas are so great, we’ll remember ’em. I don’t believe that; we are a very forgetful species.
Remember that feeling? We’re on the move and late for work or school. We grabbed our coffee and kissed our loved one goodbye. Then we’re fumbling for the keys or waiting on our roommate. We’ve got to go! Then it happens. An idea plants itself in our brain, as if from thin air. All that mania and fear of being late rushes into focus on this one brilliant thought. We must record it. “I’ve got to write this down,” we say. We search around, pulling any piece of paper–the six-month-old grocery-store receipt crumpled on the floorboard. We scribble, imagining the solutions and beauty this one idea will bring to our writing. The euphoria pushes that pen across the paper. It pushes so fast the paper almost rips, but we seized the idea, and it’s glorious. Then we stuff it in our pocket and drive away, headed into our daily life . . . and the spark dies.
Later, we don’t really find the same passion-inspired mania of that first idea instance. No matter how many times we read that note, that same excitement, that same spark, it leaves. It evolves under a system of checks and balances in our writing, formed by years of study and practice. The idea adapts and becomes a piece of something larger, and we are satisfied, proud even, but it doesn’t feel the same as that first moment. It’s not necessarily bad, just different.
Sometimes that’s all we can do, but then there’s last Saturday night:
My wife and I were getting ready to go out with friends for the evening. I was dressed, ready to go, and not sure how much longer my wife needed when it hit me. I had the most excellent idea for a spoof comic. All the right elements fell into place: narrative, revelations about characters in the source material, the subtle, then the not so subtle jokes–THE SPARK!
I grabbed my pocket journal and my nifty little bookmark pen (Check it out! Also available at your local Barnes and Noble). I scribbled the idea down furiously, just a couple sentences, the general idea, as they say. I looked at it. I rewrote it in the little book, crafting and expanding here and there, refining the tiny little narrative and discovering ideas within. Again, I had a small, but more detailed and general summary.
Still, the spark wouldn’t die . . .
I started scripting right then and there. While watching my wife finish her hair, I scratched onto the page, dialogue and panel descriptions. I looked at it. The full narrative was there, but those polishes, the shiny bits needed discovering. I looked at my wife; still messing with her make-up. I jumped into the living room and booted up my laptop. Transcribing the script, I changed pieces here and there. Formatting as I went, I fleshed out every plot point and each character, until voilá!
In less than an hour, that spark of an idea had lit ablaze and burned itself into a fully realized and finished draft, ready to be sent off to an artist for penciling. It was an incredible feeling. I had fully realized an idea mere moments after it came to me. The rest of the night, I carried a euphoric sense of achievement and a smile.
My advice to you? When that unexpected spark happens, if you can, let it catch fire and burn across you brain. Get it out, right then and there. Don’t stop until it’s finished. Trust me, it will feel amazing.
In the words of Ray Bradbury, “[B]urn down the house.” (From Zen in the Art of Writing, in which he writes much more eloquently about pretty much the same thing I’ve written about above.)
If you have an hour, watch Bradbury share his passion of writing: