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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Ideas, part 3: Using Them

I meant to finish up this series months ago. Oops. First off, some refresher links:

Ideas, part 1: Fill ‘er Up.

Ideas, part 2: Keeping Organized.

There is one terrific source of ideas I neglected to mention in my first post: dreams! Even one perfect detail in an otherwise nonsensical dream can lead to something useful. A few years ago (it must’ve been 2007), I dreamed I was standing in a graveyard outside an old stone church. Out of nowhere a man on a bicycle appeared. He was dressed like a jester, with an elaborately embroidered red-and-white suit covered in tiny bells and an enormous headdress with animal horns coming out of it, and he jingled as he pedaled around the headstones. He wasn’t sinister at all; I just remember watching him and being fascinated by the general bizarreness. He pedaled around the corner of the church and, just as he was about to hit the side of the building, the back wheel of his bicycle went up into the air like he was descending into the ground, and he vanished.

I wish I could dream stuff like this more often—you know, the kind of dream that still makes its own peculiar kind of sense when you try recounting it to someone (as opposed to the garden-variety dream, in which the narrative only holds together while you are still dreaming it). Anyway, that bicycling-jester-in-the-graveyard dream inspired this paragraph from the Petty Magic Christmas chapter:


Another concrete example of source to story is the time I overheard a pair of avid cyclists chatting on the PATH train, which I blogged about here. (I still chuckle over that one whenever I think of it.)

Other times I go out into the world knowing exactly the kind of experience I want to have, just so I can write about it.


(Written during a trip to Nuremberg in December 2008.)

Finding a use for good ideas seems like the effortless part; it’s the keeping your eyes and ears open and jotting down anything interesting that may take a certain degree of mindfulness and practice.

Write everything down, even if it’s just a word or phrase you like the ring of. (Skullduggery. Thaumatrope. ‘Dead, yet speaketh.’)

Write it down even if it doesn’t have anything to do with the story. It might. (Christmas cards. Chaos = self organizing. Gingerbread recipe?)

Write it down even if it (seemingly) doesn’t make any sense. (Mr. Pants. Marsh bandits. The corpse and her impostor.)

The act of writing it down puts the idea in play, adds it to the pot, or whichever metaphor you prefer. Let it kick, or bounce, or stew, or mingle. One idea may prove itself the kernel of the best poem you ever write, and another will never amount to more than words on a card; but it may be years before you can tell which is which, so you might as well write everything down.

Ultimately, if it’s a really great idea, you don’t end up using it. It uses you.

3 Comments to Ideas, part 3: Using Them

  1. January 10, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Best. last line. ever.
    I love this!

  2. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    January 10, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    You want some ideas. I’ll start writing down my dreams: monsters, ferrets, and Romancing the Stone-inspired kidnappings!

  3. January 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Ferrets!!! By Jove, THAT’S IT!

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.