Where do you get your ideas?

“Where do you get your ideas?” the woman in the audience asked one of the writers on the panel of the Writer’s Conference.

“Oh, I have some fairy dust,” he responded. “I keep it in a gold box right next to my computer. I open its top and reach in with my index finger and thumb when I need an idea. I take out only a few particles because I want it to last as long as I can.”

A second writer, Marsha, a bestselling author from Texas, leaned forward and commented, “I used to use that stuff but I finally got rid of it. I’m here to tell you it was addicting.”

“You did?” a third writer, a Ph.d. candidate from the School of Hard Knocks, asked. “I sure wish you’d shared it with me. It would have saved me a lot of pain. My gosh, six months on that last novel almost killed me.”

The woman in the audience, whose name happened to be Alice, smiled. “I want to be a writer. But I can’t seem to come up with an idea.”

Sam from the other side of the room stood up and addressed Alice. “I have ideas but I can’t write worth a toot. Maybe we can get together.”

The first writer, let’s call him Joe, laughed. “That’s how I ended up with my first divorce.”

Bestseller from Texas looked at him. “I thought you looked a little familiar. It’s been twenty years. The beard sure hides that s. o. b. face of yours.”

Joe was surprised. It was his first wife. He leaned forward, looked down the row of panelists and asked, “Marsha? Marsha.”

“You still with that little tart?” Marsha wanted to know.

“I caught her with a bestselling novelist. She was after his ideas too. It was a coitus interruptus. I shot the bastard before he could do a complete coitus and kicked her butt for three blocks. That was how I met my third wife. She was the arresting officer. Come to think of it. He was from Texas just like you. Anyway the judge said I had every right to do what I did and he let me off scot free.”

“It’s a big state. Guess that serves you right,” Marsha said. “Hope that cop keeps you in line.”

“She does. She’s the lady in uniform at the back.”

Everybody turned and saw this six-foot-three female cop standing at attention beside the door. She saluted the audience.

“You always did like uniforms,” Marsha said.

“And you never would play in one,” Joe said, then went back to the original question. “Where do we get our ideas, Alice? Life I guess. In fact, I just came up with an idea. Writer meets his ex at a writer’s conference.”

The female cop at the back of the room took out her handcuffs and headed toward the panel. “We’ll be having none of that,” she said.

Where do you get your ideas to write?

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Ray Bradbury’s Adventures in Writing

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. In honor of the upcoming National Poetry Month of April, this week’s Spotlight Creator is the Ray Bradbury. Here is a short documentary of Ray Bradbury and a review of his book, Zen in the Art of Writing:

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
Publisher: Joshua Odell Editions (August 1, 1994)

In Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury shares the sources of many of the hundreds of stories, essays, plays and novels. They come from a vivid imagination that has continued to see things with the eyes of a child. At the heart of many of his stories is his childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois.

Unlike the Thomas Wolfe saying of “you can’t go home again,” Bradbury often returned home to Waukegan. His childhood years in that small Illinois town served as a source for many of his stories in the same way that Hemingway mined his youth in Michigan for his Nick Adams stories and Mark Twain used Hannibal, Missouri for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Waukegan was his Paris, his Oz, his Castle Rock. In Bradbury’s imagination, Waukegan became the Green Town of the Dandelion Wine stories. An encounter at age twelve with Mr. Electrico and his traveling electric chair inspired him to begin his Martian stories.

Though he was writing a story a week in those early years, he imitated the fictions of Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe and many of the pulp writers he was reading. It was his discovery of word association that broke him free from their influence. Bradbury made a list of words, took one of those words, and made that word a title for a story. Then he came up with memories and emotions for that word.

He turned the phrase :the old woman” into two stories: “There was an Old Woman” and “Season of Disbelief”. “The baby” became “The Small Assassin”. “The trap door” ended up as “Trapdoor” in Omni Magazine in 1985.

Bradbury relates how it cost him nine dollars and eighty cents to write the first draft of Fahrenheit 451. He shares how a visit to catacombs in Mexico caused his imagination to spit up the story, “Next in Line.” His stay in Ireland led to a number of Irish stories, including “The Haunting of the New.” He relates his love affair with skeletons and circuses and carnivals and dinosaurs and Mars, and how he never lost his childlike wonder for all things strange and exotic and out-of-the-normal.

In the chapter titled “Zen in the Art of Writing,” he shares his process for writing: Work, Relaxation, Don’t Think. He relates how the writer can learn from the archer of Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. Then he reveals his unique approach to plotting. He writes: “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal” (p. 152).

Zen in the Art of Writing encourages the writer, and anyone pursuing his chosen dream, to never give up. Persistence pays off. If we’re putting in the work, there will be a reward down the line. His advice is: Do the work for the joy of it. Don’t worry about the destination. Love the process.