Monday, March 26, 2018

Story Ideas & the Toy Vending Machine

You know when you wrap up at the dentist and the hygienist offers you a shot at the itty bitty vending-type machine, and you get a little excited wondering what you’ll get? This process similar to what it’s like coming up with story ideas for me.

Ideas bombard me at any given moment. I keep a notebook by my bed, in my car, and on various counters of my house. Because they sneak attack—ideas do. And every time I weigh the validity of a story idea it feels like selecting something out of a toy vending machine. I’ve gotten better at figuring out which are the best toys to get.

Some days I end up with . . .

A bouncy ball
You think this is a good one at first. Mildly entertaining. Fun to zing up to the ceiling. It responds to your exertion. All good, right? But there comes a day when the bouncy ball is quarantined under a sofa and gets coated with so much dust it’s difficult to see what it ever was in the first place.

Silly string
Yay. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. For about two seconds, then it’s a mess.

A stuffed animal
This one is tricky because it likes to fool you. Look at me, I’m so cute. You can cuddle me and love me. Until I end up in the back of your closet because my weird eyebrows and overly stuffed stomach freak you out at night. Stuffed animals seems like such an ideal grab at first, but they’re quickly neglected. Especially the vending machine variety because they’re made cheap, prone to ripping easily and destined to bore.

A plastic slinky
Another initial cheer when an idea like this strikes. I take notes. I think I’ve got a good thing going, but have you ever tried a plastic slinky? They have the power of Eeyore before a nap. And they readily twist up. Not writer’s gold, the plastic slinky. Better to slink it back.

Fake teeth
I have a thing against chewed gum. And fake teeth. And anything that has the potential to collect saliva. Fake teeth also seem intriguing at first. Try ’em on. Have a laugh with them. Then what? They sit in some drawer gathering germs, forgotten.

It’s not until Silly Putty falls into my hands that I know I’ve got a real thing going.

Silly Putty
More like writer idea gold. When a concept like this sparks, I trust it’s transferred from something that’s left a great impression on me, such a lasting impression it leaves a stamp on me. (Think Silly Putty and a newspaper.) Then, and here’s the coolest thing, with an idea like this, I know I’m able to smash it up, bend it, and contort it into an entirely different shape—that impression. And if you’re like my kids were when they were little, you smack Silly Putty and leave it smashed onto your forehead for as long as humanly possible. And I don’t think I know a writer alive who doesn’t want people to have their stories smashed on their foreheads. Silly Putty is the holy grail of toy vending machine grabs. It’s the idea maker and giver all in one.

Authors, always root for the Silly Putty to fall into your hands.

*Blogging break. Be back on April 9th.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Writing through the Chaos

When I was a kid I begged my mom to drive me to a neighboring town so I could audition to be a tightrope walker. She refused. Hmm…wonder why? I suppose it makes sense to me now that she had reservations about me joining the circus.

I’ve identified a good deal with a tightrope walker in my writing life lately. Major life events, as well as plenty of routine day-to-day demands swirl all around me as I work hard to maintain my focus. I decided to take a step back and assess what helps me to stay in line with my target goals and what presents the greatest distraction.

The following are six strategies that have kept me committed to writing and my writing goals during times of upheaval.

When life’s a circus . . .

I remind myself to breathe fire
Writing is a proven stress relief for me. I allow this mantra to echo in my mind as a reminder of what good it’ll do me to take some time to peck out a few thousand words. It calms my nerves, slows my heart rate, and has a magical way of putting my mind at ease. Breathe fire. Let out the stress.

I make things disappear
I poof the expectation I have to make a meal everyone will enjoy every night or vamoose the lunch appointment with that individual who has mastered the art of sucking the best out of me. I’m a magician when it comes to my schedule, keeping committed to only the things of utmost priority and making all the rest disappear.

I periodically look back with respect at the elephants in line behind me
I view this in two ways. There are times I need to reflect upon just how far my discipline has gotten me. Also, looking back at the elephants behind me is another way of telling myself other authors—great masters of discipline—have done this before—climbed these steps, kicked up to great heights. I’m inspired to keep at it when I remember to look back.

I clown around
When I’m in the midst of a chaotic life change, I make sure to seek out laughter. It’s a reward. Whether plotting a novel or drafting a key scene, I find creative avenues that are sure to spark laughter in me. It’s part of clinging to my sanity. And it’s just a fun way to live.

I’m okay if a few plates fall
I’ve learned the incredible freedom that comes with granting myself some grace. Plates will topple. It’s part of it. The key is to not obsess over what’s broken on the ground and to keep my eyes on what’s amazing above. I may not reach my word count. Or a kid might not get their favorite things in their lunch bag. The world will go on spinning.

I grab on to hands that are reaching out
One thing more than any other indicates where I land on the pride meter. Am I able to grasp on to others when they’re offering help or am I stubbornly insistent on doing it all myself? Flinging myself through times of turmoil without reaching for and hanging on to the help offered is a futile undertaking, a surefire way to run myself ragged.

Life is a circus right now. I want to be intentional about what I love. I want to write through the chaos.

Monday, March 12, 2018

I Am Here

Every morning I read something inspiring. It’s my way of starting the day off right. I happen to really like how Shauna Niequist communicates. Could be that she enjoys food, wine, and fellowship as much as I do, but I’m pretty sure it’s more about how she expresses herself with a blend of both vulnerability and motivation. I love when those two traits mingle.

I had to laugh at a devotion I read the other day. In her book, Savor, Niequist writes how she used to perceive her future as a rock only to watch it turn into a magic carpet, becoming a “slidy-wiggly thing, full of equal parts play and terror.” Nodding. Laughing more. She finishes the message with this, “There is a loosey-goosey feeling to the future now, both a slight edge of anxiety like anything can happen, and a slight bubble of hope and freedom that, well, anything can happen.” If ever Ive wanted to color a big dot on a page and scream I am here, this was the page.

This is that moment for me.

Taking Time

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