Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sparks Flew as the Westside Writers Schmooze Began The Journey (The Journey of Your Book, Part I)

How lovely to be back!  And in our regular home, too, as construction on the Fairview Branch of the Santa Monica Public Library had been postponed yet again.

Who knows whether folks reeeeeally missed the Westside Writers Schmooze or Charlie and Karol’s beefed up promotional efforts, coupled with Jeff Cox’s awesome year-long concept Schmooze experiment idea, paid off big time.  Either way, there was a packed house – 36 Schmoozers, a handful of which were attending their very first Schmooze – at the September 10th Schmooze kicking off the Journey with – The Spark…And What To Do With It.

Naturally Charlie’s prep for the night was focused primarily on the big picture concept of where ideas come from and how they’re generated, whereas Karol was all about the nuts and bolts of basic plotting and brainstorming the particulars of a potential story idea.  (This, boys and girls, is why Mama Karol and Papa Charlie make such a good team.)

Charlie gave free reign to his addictive personality and binge watched a whole bunch of Ted Talks on the subject of “Where Do Ideas Come From” and found that most of our ideas about ideas are wrong!  We usually think of an idea as a single thing – a flash of inspiration, or a stroke of genius, but according to Steven Johnson (author of Where Good Ideas Come From) an idea is simply a new network of old neurons, firing in a synch that has never happened before.  He says the way to bring this about is to excite your sleepy neurons with new experiences and interactions.  Ideas are cobbled together from whatever is nearby so try to seek out spaces where ideas “can have sex,” that is, where intellectual collisions are part of the social intercourse.  Ahem.

Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) said that in modern times we misuse the words creativity and genius to our own detriment.  Apparently, since the days of ancient Greece and Rome, and until fairly recently, creativity was thought to come to humans, not from them.  “Genius” referred to a spirit that helped the author create, not the author him or herself.  The key is not to be a genius, but to open yourself up to it; to let the creativity flow through you, not to manufacture it.

…which is all well and good unless you happen to be Tom Waits who was speeding down a freeway at rush hour when he heard a glimpse of a melody.  As a younger man he would have risked his life to pull over and jot it down but this day he said to the sky: “Excuse
me, can you not see that I’m driving? Come back later or go bother Leonard Cohen.”  The point being, you don’t need to grab every bit of genius that wanders by.  If you miss something, relax, and count on the fact that more will be coming.

After Charlie's sparkling intro, it was a great night for full participation, with many Schmoozers chiming in their thoughts throughout the evening.  A few people said they get ideas from dreams.  It was noted that story sparks can come from an interesting character, a theme or premise you want to explore or even an intriguing location.  “Story ideas” don’t always start with a story.

New Schmoozer Scott said he breaks up writing sessions by playing piano for 15 minutes to cleanse his creative palate, as it were.  Another person remembered that Maggie Stiefvater, a keynote speaker at the SCBWI Summer Conference, admitted, “I steal people” – meaning that she “steals” characters and ideas from the world around her.  

Read a nice recap of Maggie Stiefvater's keynote on the SCBWI Team Blog HERE:

Ray Bradbury’s musings on “the impulse to write” and how “ideas are like apples, ripe for the picking” was also mentioned.

Westside Writers Schmooze stalwart Greg Pincus offered that ideas often come from “looking at the familiar in a different way” and also admitted that being under pressure with a deadline on one project has a dastardly way of making one’s brain come up with a bunch of cool idea for other projects.

Once the esoteric business of discussing idea creation was exhausted, Karol was finally able to breathe again when she steered the conversation into a more concrete discussion of how to determine if there’s really a book in your bright and shiny new idea.  The general consensus was that any idea could potentially be a book, but not every idea should.

One key factor, as Greg suggested, is to ask yourself, “Do I like this idea enough to stick with it?”  Whether or not others might like it shouldn’t really matter.  Another Schmoozer offered this gem:  Sometimes I like an idea so much it starts working me.

Clearly, one surefire way to figure out whether an idea has potential is to begin fleshing out the story and see where it goes.  To that end, Karol created a story worksheet handout (which terrified and appalled Charlie in its specificity) and Schmoozers spent about 15 minutes filling them out – or trying to.  (Print out a copy of the worksheet HERE.)  

The results varied, but the vast majority of Schmoozers broke Charlie’s heart by loving the worksheet, many finding themselves with great new stories or amazing breakthroughs in the stories they’ve been musing about.  It took a lot of work but Charlie did manage to find a few Schmoozers to chime in with frustrations about the worksheet, but they were pretty half-hearted. The truth is, even Charlie had to admit that it wasn’t as much of a nightmare as he’d expected. Then he left the room, weeping.

The Journey Of Your Book continues next month on Wednesday, October 8th: Plotting, Structure And Other Stuff Your Book Kinda-Sorta Needs.  Whether you absolutely dread this part of the process (like Charlie) or revel in it (like Karol), please come share your ideas, questions, techniques and even resentments.

Until then, keep passing the open windows,

 Charlie & Karol

1 comment:

  1. This is a fantastic recap on a fantastic topic!! I so wish I had been there! I can't believe I wasn't there . . .

    Thanks for sharing! I'll be filling out my worksheet tonight!