Tag Archives: imagination

Stop killing your ideas

Creativity needs quantity to produce quality

17th century map of South America

CC image Mapa antiguo de America del Sur via Douglas Fernandes on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I have tons of ideas. The problem isn’t a shortage of ideas. I have ideas the way a dog on the street has fleas, the way South Carolina has mosquitos in the summer. I have ideas bothering me all the time; they itch; they plague me. I swat about my head and shoulders, trying to end the nuisance. Instead, I miss and get irritated. And maybe a headache, if I whack too hard.

I’ve never had a problem getting ideas. The trouble arises when I start evaluating them. How many of them are good? I get annoyed because so many of them are nascent ideas, ideas in utero, provisional ideas. Why can’t I have any better ideas than these? I ask myself. These aren’t good enough. I need improvement.

Sound familiar?

I’m not a betting woman, but I’m willing to bet that you do the same to your ideas. You want good ones, and most don’t measure up. So you swat them. Or use broad-spectrum anti-idea juice (“I never have any good ideas!” you tell yourself. Later on you are amazed how true that is).

Idea-killing is counterproductive

I’ve been known to massacre the pesky, low-value ideas which make merry about my head and shoulders. When more return, I equip myself with DEET.

And then wonder where the buzz has gone.

I read a fascinating article about the insects in the cornfields of the American Midwest. Or, more precisely, the lack of insects.

Turns out there’s a shocking absence of hum in our fields of monoculture.

Studies have shown that the diversity and number of insects on American cropland has plummeted. This should surprise no one. After all, that’s what pesticides are for—to kill pests.

The trouble is, some of these “pests” are pollinators. Their absence creates problems in the environment.

I feel that way about my ideas. The instant I fumigate the pests — No, can’t have this here, trying to grow quality — almost all of them disappear.

Ideas take us places

Sometimes, as with me, they literally are the map to new adventure.

My mother has an atlas — a huge, bound book, two feet tall and a foot wide — printed in the days of the USSR. The world is broken down by continent, and within each continent the countries are set off from each other by color: brilliant pinks, yellows, neon blues and greens. Rivers are small, squiggly things, their names like faded Egyptian hieroglyphs. The seas are huge and strange, the contours of the shorelines, mysteries. The atlas was out of date by the time I started hauling it off the top shelf, but that didn’t stop me from poring over the pages for hours, tracing rivers and mountain ranges with my fingertips.

At some point I conceived of the idea of making a map out of our backyard — and not just our backyard, but all the adjoining backyards, too — creating countries, enormous landscapes, and adventure. I didn’t stop to think about this idea. I walked around with a notebook and a pen, and started drawing.

I included topographic features: a low, loose rock wall separated the long side of our yard from one neighbor: it became a mountain range. The incline from our yard to our other neighbors’ fence became a canyon; the fence, a cliff. At one end of the canyon, a brace to a nearby tree with branches just the right height led to climbing opportunities. The tire swing was featured on my map; the stone wall at the back of the garden became a high-wire act. All the features received names. As did the under-the-deck area, which was boxed off with wooden latticework, and the side of the house, which was a wall of hostas in the summertime, so thick spiders could parade across from one side to the other and knit webs that got all over my face and hair (insert shriek here).

I made a half-dozen versions of this map over the years. I drew in notebooks and tucked copies into my diary. My friend T and I constructed games located in the places detailed in my maps. We spent hours exploring different worlds.

We don’t get one without the other

Ideas are collegial, and they like to hang out together in groups. When we get rid of the “bad” ones, we are stuck with none: a clean, antiseptic monoculture of the mind, lacking any hum.

When we let them grow wild, yes, we get spiders in our hair, but we also find portals to new dimensions.

Let’s stop killing our ideas. We don’t know where they might take us.

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What’s one crazy idea that brought you magic and adventure?

This movie coming soon to a bookstore near you!

considering book trailers

black and white of a group of children covering their eyes

Gasp! it’s a movie! about a book! CC image “children of horror” courtesy of wolfgangfoto on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Did you know you could make movie-like trailers for books?

I didn’t.

I’m not talking about a trailer for a movie that was based on a book. I mean a trailer that was shot exclusively to promote a book. As part of that book’s publicity.

This may not be as new for the world as it is for me. I only discovered book trailers this week. The first one was utter serendipity — a link in an article I was reading. I was intrigued by the concept of making a film to advertise literature. Since then, I see links to book trailers everywhere (it’s like little red cars; see the post I wrote about Attentional Bias for more info on that).

I think this is an awesome idea.

Admittedly, I can see the trailer concept working better for some genres and types of stories than others. The link that opened the world of book trailers for me was for a kind of thriller. That type of story structure lends itself to excitement. A very interior storyline might not — for what it’s worth, that’s what I think tripped up the movie version of The Hunger Games. That book was a page-turner for me; I stayed up at night because I had find out what happened next. So much of it — and much of what appealed to me — lay in the protagonist’s reaction to the world around her: her thoughts; her ideas. The movie, in comparison, was bland. You and I could make a lot of arguments about how and why that was… one of them, for me, is that the movie failed to cash in on the first-person, interior landscape of the book, lingering instead on the easy, outside paraphernalia.

Still, I think that if you’ve got a good storyline, no matter what the genre, you could create a book trailer for your book. What a way to capture audience — our social media sharers these days are absolutely video-obsessed!

Seriously…

I mean, really.

In fact, creating a video could be a great benchmark for figuring out if you do have a story, and how interesting that story is. In a way, a trailer is kind of like an abstract of the book, or a pitch letter. You have to be able to capture the essence of the story and the interest of the audience in a short amount of time — hook them, leave them wanting more.

I don’t want to say the book trailer replaces the book, however. Film and literature are different media, and need to be imagined differently. Which I frankly regard as another advantage of the book trailer concept — cross-media play is a tried-and-true recipe for breaking into the creative zone. Our brains are forced to be dynamic, considering artistic problems from different angles. I wrote a little about this, too.

If you’re creating a book trailer as a test for the story’s viability, there’s no reason your film efforts ever need to see the light of day, though. Like my drawings, the video can be just for you…

…but if you do make a book trailer that you want the world to see, let me know. And long live the story!

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What do you think of the book trailer idea? Blessing or curse?

Book bullies: When that novel just won’t leave you alone

black and white of child throwing a tantrum

I don’t wanna read this book! Don’t make me! — CC image “Tantrum” courtesy of demandaj on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I’ve picked up a book that I’m beginning to find intrusive.

This book is really getting in the way. I see it there, on the floor next to my bed, with the bookmark sticking out of its spine, and narrow my eyes at it. I know for a fact that beguiling cover is only a smokescreen for total entrapment. If I start reading again, I’ll be unable to stop for at least a few chapters, and then what’ll I do? Not much else with the rest of my day, that’s what!

Plus, I’ll get agitated. Terrible things are happening to the main character all the time. The book thinks it can fool me, because it starts out with a backdrop of lyrical words and natural beauty. Then it likes to hammer me and tear my guts out, before sending a few more soothing droplets of peace my way.

Keeping this book next to my bed is a bad idea. I want to know what is happening next, but on the other hand, I also want to sleep. I’ll lie down and get all cuddly with my book, knowing I’ll keep turning pages until the next emotional crash. At which point I will lie awake, fretting about the uncertain (fictional) future, as emotionally invested in the characters as if we were related.

I was browsing at the library (always a dangerous pastime) when I found the book, although I should only have been returning items and rushing out before my car meter expired. Intrigued by the cover and the title, I checked out the jacket flaps. Then I started reading the first chapter. I have a rule of thumb which says, if I am standing in a bookstore or a library for more than 10 minutes reading a book I only thought about “checking out” briefly, I need to pick up a copy for myself to read at home. The rule applied, so I took this dangerous novel back to my place with me, little knowing the emotional time-bombs it was going to set off in my psyche.

I knew the author, too; I’d read some of her short prose. That was destructive, also. In a beautiful way. This should have warned me, had I paid closer attention to the byline. But I was snookered by my own oversight.

Ooh, shiny pretty cover design!

I’ve had the book for a couple of weeks now — I usually read MUCH faster than this — and have made my painful way to the final third of the story. I had another book from the library waiting for me to read — the new Khaled Hosseini, which, since it was new, was only being lent for a limited time and I wasn’t allowed to renew it — which I didn’t get to read AT ALL because of Book Number One.

I had to return a book without reading it.

That never happens.

But, Alex, you might point out. All of the characteristics of the book you are complaining about — these sound like GOOD things. And you’d be right, of course. Don’t all of us want to create a world that’s so real it rivals the tangible surroundings of our readers? Don’t we all yearn to create characters who haunt our readers just like they haunt us? Don’t we all want our prose to be described by adjectives that we synonomize with “beautiful”?

Now, I like immersive fiction. After all, that’s kind of the point. I just like to be the one in charge, and right now, I’m not.

Book bully.
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When was the last time a book grabbed you by the scruff of the neck and dragged you kicking and screaming? Share in the comments!

Squozen language — fun stuff our family says

This recipe for canning salsa* will forever live in my heart for its use of the word, “squozen.”

baby squirrel holding onto the fingers of a hand

You must be squozen! — CC image “Charlie the hugger” courtesy of novocainstain on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

“Squozen” is a family word. As in my aunt announcing to me or my brothers or cousins, “You must be squozen.” A term of endearment and affection.

My family has also been known to “shniggle,” to drive each other crazy by “gussifying” (“please stop gussifying!”), and to discuss “buppos” in public.

Nephews and brothers must be liberally “goosed” by an authority figure, and references to anthropopagi are regularly made in conversation. “Do not sit at the table like one of the anthropopagi, the men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders,” my father liked to intone, as we sat at the dinner table.

One of many reasons to be glad to be part of the clan.

Ours is of course not the only family to have family-specific terminology for things. I do think, however, that being a bilingual family has added a special flavor to our adaptations on language. Anyone can snuggle, after all, but not everyone abuses German in English by shniggling.

snippet of recipe text for salsa

Courtesy of PickYourOwn.org

As a group, we have been caught punning nearly constantly, and having our way with various sayings. “Like water off a duck’s foot!” has become standard, as has “open foot, insert mouth…” The dog is a “hairy beast” while minds are terrible things to lose. (All true, by the way)

Sometimes I use family terminology in a non-family environment. Occasionally, hearers will look confused. Other times, they congratulate me on my language creativity. I smile and accept their admiration, not bothering to set them straight.

The family dog is now multi-lingual, being fluent in Dog, as well as proficient with English, German, and family-speak (though sometimes he pretends he doesn’t know what we are talking about). He is particularly attentive when we illustrate points with food, or with small kittens. So far, he has not attempted to eat the kittens.

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What are some fun words your family or friends use or have invented?

*yes, I did indeed make that salsa. Many tomatoes were squozen, and the result was delicious!

Will you play Social Media Mad Libs® with me?

graphic of notebook mad libs page

CC image courtesy of Aaron & Alli on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I have a confession to make.

When I first started on Twitter, I kind of overdid it with the retweeting. I searched for output on writing and inspirational quotes, and fell into a perfect vortex of quotables (how’s this for a QWERTY slip: on my first pass at the foregoing sentence, I typed “vortext” — a vortex of text, yar!).

I have another confession: as a child, I was a Mad Libs junkie. Yes, that Mad Libs. The game of ignorant word substitution, where one person knows the story and the other one supplies words to fill in the blanks. My friend T and I would play for hours, laughing ever more insanely as time went by. We quoted each other our literary outputs for weeks afterwards.

Now I have a mad plan to bring these two dormant fascinations together. But I want help. Will you be my enablers?

Quotations are cool, but they have their limits

As I said, I love quotes.

I’m talking about all kinds of quoted language: brainy quotes from magazine articles, insightful quotes from speeches, inspirational quotes from Zen books and Hallmark cards, cool language displayed in literature or by the literati, snarky quotes from pop culture, TV and movies, quotes about writing, quotes about seizing the moment, quotes about puns and wordplay, quotes about the metaphoric uses of coffee.

Written quotes. Spoken quotes. Scripted quotes and improvised quotes, quotes set to music and quotes a capella.

Before I knew it, most of my time on Twitter was spent obsessively chasing down, favoriting, and retweeting quotes of every description. I feasted on quotes the way other people feast on candy or chocolate or coffee or beer.

Somehow, I got a hold of myself. I pulled myself out of the narcotic haze of brilliant language written by other people, and I asked myself the hard question. Was anyone interested in listening to me quote?

Hm.

Why was I retweeting the posts of other users which were themselves quotations by some third or fourth party — What was even remotely useful about this behavior?

We laugh better together

Mad Libs is not a game for the solitary. Its genius lies in the knowing collaboration between two people where one has information and the other knows their words will be twisted out of all proportion.

I had a stack of Mad Libs books. T and I re-used them so often, the pages where we filled in the words were divided into columns. Eventually we had to add looseleaf pages with additional columns. Sometimes we were innocuous: chair, clean, surprisingly, jumped. Often we went for the ridiculous, because we knew where this was all heading: toadstools, mutated, unbearably, exploded.

After the list was complete, we read the story results aloud to each other. The ensuing literature was without exception hilarious. (Really.)

Send me your quotes!

What I would like to propose is libbing on a grand scale, using the internet, and plugging into the great human propensity to hurl quotes at each other.

I am going to compose an entire story made up of unrelated quotations. And you’re going to help me. Our roles look like this:

You: send me quotations
Me: rearrange and string together.
Post it here.

What better use of quotations, digital media, and native human wackiness?

Here’s how you submit your quotes:

  • Post your quotes here, in the comments
  • Email [link] them using the contact form
  • Tweet to me @aocwrites using #DigitalMadLibs

Quotation submission cutoff will be the end of July, 2013.

Quotation guidelines:

  1. Quotes will be up to 20 words in length. No longer.
  2. No porn!
  3. No drugs!
  4. No gratuitous foul language! I’ll accept the occasional *$#@! when used for emphasis, and I reserve the right to determine what “occasional” and “emphasis” is.
  5. Topics and sources may include but are not limited to: famous sayings by famous people, inspirational, literary, business, movies, TV, sports, travel, stand-up, food, zombies, and music. Still don’t have any ideas? I’m sorry.
  6. Be as earnest or as silly as you like. The more we have of both category, the better.
  7. Include the source, if you have it. Just because I’m a nerd, and I’d like to have that information.

Maybe some of you will want to make your own Mad Libs stories? I’d love to see those!

Let the quote-libbing begin!