Monday, April 21, 2008

Homework Ideas for Beginners.

The last time I had homework it involved nutrition, food safety regimes, menu planning, visiting hotels to interview the executive chef, and all the myriad details involved in a 3rd year chef apprenticeship. This time around, it's a little different. No food, just words. Beginnings in fact.

Three different stories, three different beginnings. One, a rewrite of a story that's already been begun. I was happy about the rewrite exercise, it allowed me to move beyond a year long stint of writing block on that particular novel. The second exercise was a piece of cake, since we could use something we already had written, if it fit the criteria. Phew!

The third piece? With eye strain and a neck-tension-induced headache, I wrote six different versions of the one story. Longhand. Each one sucked more than the last. Somehow, this story idea needed a different emphasis on the opening scene than what the exercise required. Woohoo! Filed that for later reference. But, crap! Now I needed a new story idea with less than thirty six hours until deadline.

Spent the next day doing homework of a different kind; chores. Fun, fun, fun! After a walk to clear my head and a tasty dinner to stimulate the senses, I sat down at the computer to write. And sat. And stared. Then fartarsed about on the internet hoping to trick an idea into slipping into my brain while I wasn't looking.

With less than twenty four hours to go until deadline, I gave up. Shut down the computer and called a friend to say happy birthday. Four hours later, got off the phone from her, managed a far too quick clean of my teeth, then fell into bed. Where the vision of an Aunt-in-law's afghan rug nagged insistently for ten minutes. Ten whole minutes that thing swam in my brain before I realised it had been haunting me all day.

Snuggling deeper into the doona I squished my eyes shut, ostensibly focusing on the afghan, but really hoping to slip off to sleep. No such luck. Just as my day was ending, the story was finding its beginning. There in my mind's eye a brand new scene for the exercise unfolded. All centered on that afghan. After playing it through a few times, I figured it was burned into my brain pretty good, so I could finally go to sleep.

"Now, now," said my muse. "None of that, thank you! You know what happened last time you tried that trick, after I managed to get your attention with a story idea at this time of night."

Sigh! Yeah, I forgot all the important details and was left with crap. With no help for it, I snuck back out of the room. (Hoping not to wake my husband, because he had to get up in less than three hours.) I grabbed the same pen and notepad I'd been using for the aborted earlier attempts, curled up on the couch in my fluffy dressing gown and scribbled furiously for the next twenty minutes.

I've been asked many times, "Where do you get your ideas from?" While saying "from the idea fairy" has such a nice ring to it, the more nebulous, "Pretty much from everywhere and everyday life" is my usual response. In this case, an afghan rug that I'd seen for all of an hour and a half, nearly two months ago.