A World of Pure Imagination

Last weekend I finally finished the first draft of a thing I am physically incapable of talking about. Now it’s sitting in a folder on my computer, waiting for me to come back to it and give it the rewrite it desperately needs.

I say that because right now it is terrible, and I don’t mean that in an aw, shucks way. I mean that it might actually be pages and pages of random nouns and verbs strung together. The typing monkeys everyone is always talking about are probably producing an exact copy of it at this moment just by slamming their fists into the keyboard. I’m afraid to open The Folder because I’m worried I spent hours and hours of my life working on something and I could have produced the same result by jumbling up a dictionary.

Actually, shredding a dictionary and gluing it back together sounds like more fun than writing.

Actually, shredding a dictionary and gluing it back together sounds like more fun than writing.

The good news is that Stephen King said I don’t have to face The Folder for six weeks. He didn’t say that to me personally. (I don’t see that conversation going well: “Wait to edit your first draft for six weeks, Stephanie, so you’re not as attached to the bad parts but you can also see the good parts,” he says. “Great tip, Steve,” I say. “By the way, I just finished reading Carrie and I thought it was really messed up how mean those teenagers were to the pigs. Oh, and also to Carrie.”) He’d give you the same advice if you read On Writing. I trust him. The man’s written more than 50 books over the course of his career.

That’s probably because the second part of his tip is to start working on a different project while you’re waiting for the six weeks to pass. This appealed to me. Overlapping projects, I thought. That guy must get so much stuff done. I bet Stephen King has very ambitious to-do lists.

So that night I sat down to brainstorm what I should write about next. Only I didn’t get very far because I wasn’t sure where to start. I don’t know where ideas come from.

How I Get Ideas for Blog Posts

Something embarrassing happens to me and I need to talk about it.

I overthink something silly and I need to talk about it.

I see my cat and I need to talk about it.

Something has suddenly become a big deal to me and I need to talk about it.

Something scares me and I need to talk about it.

Basically I have a blog so I can talk about myself. It’s one of my favorite hobbies. The thing waiting in The Folder is not about me, precisely (my greatest fear is that it’s not about anything at all), but it is about specific situations in which a person very like me might find themselves, based on specific situations in which a person exactly like me found herself.

That may have been the most confusing thing I've ever written. Besides the draft I just finished, I mean.

That may have been the most confusing thing I’ve ever written. Besides the draft I just finished, I mean.

I could talk about myself for years and years, and I have — this blog is almost five years old. But yesterday it occurred to me that maybe people don’t want to hear about me for once. So I tried to think of some things to write about that aren’t me, and this is what came out:

List #1 from my Brainstorming Session

  1. Balloon factories
  2. An African safari where everyone is murdered
  3. Entire books written by cats!
  4. What’s hiding in my basement crawlspace?
  5. Losing all feeling everywhere but your tongue so you have to lick stuff to fully experience life
  6. The princess of Murlepistan

If you’re baffled by that list, I am too. None of them sound like writing prompts. In fact, that list mostly sounds like a dream Salvador Dalí had and briefly considered painting before deciding it was too weird, even for him.

“It just seems a little out there…”

I tried again, this time using dramatic situations instead of… whatever that first list was.

List #2 from my Brainstorming Session

  1. Every book in the world vanishes
  2. You come home to find someone has moved into your house while you were away and no one believes you were there first.
  3. Your tour bus crashes into an ancient burial ground
  4. You wake up one morning and your leg has fallen off
  5. A rollercoaster collapses. You weren’t on it or near it or anything. You just heard about it.

I don’t think I’m doing this right.

I’m pretty sure ideas come from experiences you have, and observations you make about the world, and weird little snippets of things that get caught in your brain and you’re not sure why. I think sometimes they come from dreams, sometimes they come from the books someone else wrote about a dream they had and sometimes they come from nowhere while you’re riding on a train. Something pops into your head and then your imagination takes it from there.

So I’ll wait around a little longer and hope a good one pops into my head. And in the meantime, I’ll get started on the story of the morning that the princess of Murlepistan’s leg fell off, causing her to miss the tour bus to a balloon factory where none of the workers can feel with anything except their tongues.

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10 comments

  1. weebluebirdie

    Great ponders…you’re clearly desperate for something to do! Oh, if only you had a hobby :-) In the meantime here’s a prompt to finish – When Fred got home he was more tired than usual, having had to hop everywhere because his leg had fallen off that morning. He was most surprised to see a young woman in his kitchen preparing dinner. “Who are you?” he enquired. “I live here” she replied. Fred felt a strange tingling on his tongue as he was overcome with an urge to lick the kitchen table.

  2. Jane Clancy

    At the risk of getting horribly serious, which is often the most dangerous thing we can do to our imaginations (lives, friends, cats…), you and Imaginary Stephan King got this. List one is perfect. If you only wrote about you, no one would read your hilarious blog. You frequently use yourself, your experiences, to (okay, wait for it, semi-pompous finish coming) expose the ridiculous, hilarious, tough, and sweet Human Condition. Going to speak for 17,000+ strangers now: we read your blog because something you wrote helped us see ourselves, our lives, or someone we know…as both ridiculous and just right. Listen to ISK. So many of us think about a secret folder we will come back to edit. Few of us sweated the hours and hours of being willing to totally suck (or worse, succeed!) in order to get the secret folder. Let the balloon factory worker whose leg fell off edit. Tell him he’s gotta figure out a way to do it that doesn’t make the ink run. How on earth is he going to manage that when he can only experience things through taste? I’d read all about his editing problems.

  3. tartnotbitter

    Brilliant post! And, if I may be so bold, it proves that your very personal experiences described in your own very personal voice do in fact resonate with others. Don’t worry about trying to say something everyone could already relate to–relay the experience in a way that makes your reader take the journey with you. That’s the closest we get to “universal experience” and you’ve obviously got ‘hooks’ and fresh metaphors lurking in that head of yours. You can so do this! 💃🏻💃🏻

  4. Lorna's Voice

    My advice: stick with what you know. I think Steven would tell you the same. I read his book On Writing, too. Lots of great advice. He did say write what you know, right? :)

  5. LifeLoofah

    A hilarious reminder that our minds can go to all sorts of strange and random places when left to their own devices! Thanks for sharing your thought process. :)

  6. Emma Dun, Deleting Stress

    The best ideas come when you aren’t searching for them…it sure is inconvenient but at least them come eventually. On that note, I would read a book written by a cat…

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