Friday, March 11, 2011

Where do I get my ideas? Customers return them to me.

I got a new story idea joking around with my coworkers today, and another (partial) chapter idea for the Financial Guide from the Retail Side from customers being weird.

If I ever have to give up my day job, I'll miss these sorts of days.  Sure, there are lots of ideas that come to us through dreams, conversations with friends, travel, walking through downtown, etc. but they're not quite the same as the ideas that come from work stuff.  Whether work means sweating under a hot sun or shivering under the blast of a cranked-up air conditioner, you're in a very different (but still creative) headspace than when you're doodling.  

Although they suffer from being overdone, some of our richest stories are about writers because the people who write those stories are writers laboring with their fingers and hunched spines in seats that become increasingly less comfortable over the course of a long work day.  

That state of working as a physical body is a source of real richness that complements and enhances their stories.  

When a story is all pure imagination without that inclusion/acknowledgement of the sweatiness of things, there's something missing.  I can't always pinpoint stories that are lacking in that element.  They feel flat, but there are lots of reasons why a story can read flat.  Lack of life experience is another big one.  Anyway, writers that write about someone who is a writer can sometimes tap that physically-engaged labor monster within them even if they haven't had work experience beyond writing for a long time.  It's neat when that happens.  The writer's work feels more real to me.  I like that sense of realness whether I'm reading about early fifteenth century soldiers, waitresses solving murders or unicorns rampaging through moth villages.

I think that when both kinds of states of being--the doodle, and the labor monster--are employed in story creation, the story is much better than stories that are spun entirely from one side or the other.  

Naturally there also exist stories that are entirely labor-induced and have very little doodling in them.  A classic situation is where a doctor or lawyer or somesuch writes fiction as a thinly-disguised vent about the day job.  But I don't see as many stories that lack doodling as I do stories that lack that element of work in them.  Maybe that's because work is something we do to survive, connecting us to our flesh and bone and blood, and there are more writers who neglect that physical connection to the world than there are writers who embrace and even incorporate it into their writing.  Maybe they consider that aspect of existence lowly or unimportant, or maybe they just don't give it enough importance in their lives.  Isn't working an eight hour day at the diner, after all, getting in the way of their writing?  Well yes, but ...

Doodling is dreaming, and that connects us to our souls.  Souls are cool and all, but I like sensory detail, and danger, and victory.  For a story to really connect to me, flesh and bone and blood have to be a part of them.  Like a building, I need both the concept and the materials to come together before I can step inside and marvel and what human beings have engineered.  I won't just congratulate the architect, either.  That building wouldn't exist without the people who poured the foundation, pounded the nails and joined and wired and plumbed the thing.  The architect may be the artist, but the workers are the heroes that make hopes into reality.  The best writers are both artists and artisans, and their stories shine because of it.

If I leave the day job (and I won't be doing that on purpose any time soon!) I'll run the risk of losing that meat-and-bones force in my life (again.)  I'll have to find it in other ways, like putting in extra time with the garden and livestock, or start losing it gradually over time as my work experience fades into increasingly pastel memory.  In the meantime, I'll enjoy playing with my new ideas.

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