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?

Near 500 words: TW Goes Missing In Action

Episode 7 of The Writer.

TW (aka The Writer) walked around the house, looking for the robin. It was nowhere to be found. It had lit out for parts unknown. Then he realized that there was no birds filling the spring morning with their song. They seemed to be missing in action.

TW sighed and headed back in doors. As he opened the kitchen door, Cat dashed outside.”You’re on your own today, Buddy. I’m not waiting on you out here on the porch. I just don’t have it in me.”

Cat gave him on of those looks that cat owners known may just mean trouble.

“Okay.” There was a resignation in his voice. “Let me get a cup of coffee.” He filled the Keurig with water and waited.  As he did, he thought of the lines he had written. He had the next sentences worked out until the robin showed up. The water was hot. He popped the cup into the Keurig and poured his coffee into his Grumpy mug. Then he grabbed his kindle and sat down on the back porch.

Cat was giving him the eye. “What took you so long?”

TW lifted the mug to his lips and sipped and ignored the cat. He just wasn’t in the mood.

Cat, being Cat, sensed her human just wasn’t in the mood for their usual game. She came over to him, gave him a consoling meow and laid her body across his feet.

Sitting in the chair, TW realized he didn’t have the energy for writing. Cat’s body felt warm across his bare feet as he waited for his mood to pass. An hour passed and his cup was empty and his mood had not passed. He mustered up the energy, reached down, pushed Cat off his feet, then he stood up. “Let’s go inside.”

Cat followed TW into the house. He rinsed out the mug and sat it in the sink, then he went back into his office and sat down at the computer. He looked at the lines he had written.

It was the week after Mrs. Dish ran away with Mr. Spoon. All because of the Cat and the Fiddle. They had introduced the two at a company picnic. On top of that, Cat had jumped over the moon.

Then he typed. Jack sat on the stool beside the cow. Maudie was being cooperative as Jack squeezed her teat. The warm milk…

TW stopped. Then he jumped up and hurried to the hall closet. He reached and pulled down a cardboard box. He dropped the ingredients on the floor and there it was.

Near 500 words: TW’s Search For His Novel

Episode 5 of The Writer.

Sunday morning, post-Cat-feeding and post-breakfast, TW (aka The Writer) was back at his computer. With Cat snuggled on his feet, he looked at the last thing he had written the night before.

“This is the first chapter. And there will be a lot more from where that came from. Monkey looked at Shark and fired his gun. The bullet hit its target, Shark’s heart.”

“Who is this Monkey? Who is this Shark?” he asked himself out loud. He didn’t have a clue. Then he decided that this would not do. There was no inspiration, no Muse in it. It was just a bunch of dead words on the page the way that Shark was dead.

And Sylvia would know it.

Where did that come from? It had been a month of Sundays since he had thought about Sylvia. She had been gone for twenty-three years and now he caught himself thinking about her. Was she his Muse? Was she the one who would show him the way to write a novel? The last he had heard from her was a letter some five years ago. She was living some place in the Himalayas. Some place called an ashram. And the people there had proclaimed her a guru.

Imagine that. Sylvia once upon time was an atheist. Now the folks were saying she was some kind of saint or some such. Her letter had said that the locals thought of her as the incarnation of a goddess.

If she was a goddess, why couldn’t she help him with his novel? That wasn’t much to ask.

He erased the words from the previous day. Then he leaned back in his chair and ran his hand over his bald head. He looked down at Cat. She stared up at him with those eyes of hers. Eyes that told him how smart she was and how caring. “Yep, still no hair,” he said to the big green eyes.

Maybe I’d better get a cup of coffee.

Nope, not going to do it. I have to earn it. I have to write that first paragraph. Otherwise I will sit here all day and bore myself to death. Didn’t that sound like fun?

He looked out his window into the back yard. It was a nice day. Maybe he should go for a walk.

Nope, not going to do it.

He looked over at his bookshelf. He reached over and pulled a volume off the shelf. Without searching, he opened the book to a page. He perused the page and it hit him. He knew just what he should write. He slid the book back into place and turned to his computer and began to type.

It was the week after Mrs. Dish ran away with Mr. Spoon. All because of the Cat and the Fiddle. They had introduced the two at a company picnic. On top of that, Cat had jumped over the moon.

TW stopped there and looked down at Cat. “You think you could jump over the moon?”

Cat didn’t move. She purred away in her sleep. TW thought she was far away in some sort of cat dream world.

Through his window came a chirping sound. He turned to see a robin just outside of his window. “Sylvia?”

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.

micropoem for the day: characters and a new day

No life is boring when you get right down to it. Everyone has an inner life. And there’s no character who is uninteresting. Although Jason came close to it. His life was so routine the trains set their schedule by it. Look deep enough and there’s something there. Jason may have had a family life so chaotic that he went in the opposite direction. Who’s to know unless the writer looks deep and let’s Jason bear his soul in some unexpected moment.

Writing a story is like falling in love. When I fall in love with a character, then I know I have a story. I want to know more and more and more. And more. The moment I quit looking deep into the soul of that character, I know I’m done for. That’s when ye olde writer’s block drops on my head.

sipping coffee
reading a book, then writing
the start of a new day.