I woke up this morning to a message from my mother asking me a question:
“У меня полночь. Я только что прочла твой последний блог и у меня возник вопрос к тебе. Когда ты успеваешь найти идею для блога, а потом эту идею развить и написать маленький рассказ, который легко и интересно читать?”
“I just read your last post and I had a question for you. When do have the time to find an idea for a blog post, and then develop this idea and write a short story that is easy and interesting to read?”
Well, first of all, I don’t always have ideas. Sometimes I’m so bone-weary and idea-less that it’s a real struggle to figure out what to do here. Remember Days #233 and #234? Yeah, that’s me not having any ideas. Days #228 and #209 where I quote my toddler? Behind every one of those posts is me fist-pumping the fact that I don’t have to spend any time that evening composing. And sometimes I do write, but I can tell from the finished product that I am just floundering with a directionless tale, or simply showing off the latest thing the wee beastie has achieved without any real purpose to the story (*cough* *couch* Days #224 and #227).
However, I didn’t say any of that to her in response. In fact, my very short reply was somewhat glib, and was the inspiration for this post as soon as it came to me. I told her I get my ideas from the Ideas Fairy.
Who is the Idea Fairy? Well, she’s not an original concept. I am sure, in fact, that profound discussions on the nature and origin of ideas have been undertaken by many important philosophers and thinkers. However, my particular Ideas Fairy derives from a book written by one of my favourite authors from my past – One by Richard Bach. Richard Bach is an eccentric American writer upon whom I stumbled quite by accident. Many, many years ago, my mother and I picked up his most famous novel, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, at a yard sale on a whim. For an introverted misfit, the short story of a seagull achieving perfection of flight was absolutely enthralling. Aside from many other philosophical ideas, the story elevates individual exceptionalism over conformism. Over time I collected a good number of Bach’s books: Illusions: Adventures of a Retired Messiah, The Bridge Across Forever, A Gift of Wings, There’s No Such Place As Far Away, and, of course, One.
In a nutshell, it’s a novel about Bach and his wife flying their biplane and discovering a multitude of parallel universes, some where they never met, others where the world functions differently, and yet others which only exist in our imaginations. In one such universe, he encounters Tink, the Ideas Fairy, who shows him how ideas are created. From my recollection, it is in some ways a written description of a visual representation of how ideas are generated. One of the things I recall is the notion of ideas as organic elements.
Over the last 236 days of this writing adventure, I have often found myself remarking on this very thing – how ideas for my essays seem to just spring out of nowhere. Originally, the writing was an evolution of whatever photograph I ended up choosing for my original #100happydays challenge. Afterward, it was whatever sparked my fancy – another photograph, something my crazy toddler did or said, a joke said by my husband, an event such as our anniversary, current events, a random article on social media… The ideas come from where I least expect them sometimes.
How do I turn those ideas into stories? Well, like Tink, I sort of just… see where they take me. And I mean that almost literally. Sometimes I sit down at my computer and write down a few lines, and before I know what’s happening words just keep flowing through my fingers. Short fragments of ideas turn into a series of connections that are developed and sharpened almost as soon as they appear. The very act of writing allows me to explore my own half-formed thoughts until they can be distilled into a coherent narrative. A short note about my excitement at receiving a package from a friend becomes a reflection on our relationship and how it began. A comment about a national holiday turns into political commentary. An outing with my husband and my son turns into an amusing anecdote. I don’t often end up where I mean to go. Yesterday I simply stopped to see if I could get a photo of the wakeboarder while he was still in the air. Several attempts later, it occurred to me that I had taken enough photos to form a series of “before” and “after” photos as he kept trying to master the ramp over and over again. And at one point I thought about how ridiculous I probably looked standing in the rain but I didn’t care because the air smelled fresh, and the vicarious recollection of my own rowing days was so palpable that suddenly I knew I had the outline of a possible blog entry. But the actual details filled themselves in as I was writing them. Often unexpectedly.
My mother’s questions did not stop there, however. As I often find happening to my own writing, the very act of writing out her question drew out her further thoughts on the matter. She began imagining how she conceived my own writing process. She sketched out her knowledge of the fairly short distance I travel walk home to work to creche, and then the amount of my free time that’s occupied by household things and parenting until the wee beastie is asleep. She speculated that, even if I manage to think up of an idea on one of these short walks, I still need time to develop an outline or a sketch of where I’m going with it, jot down some notes, etc. So where do I find the time?
“Или путь до дому под дождем достаточно, чтобы к тебе пришла идея и как отработать эту идею? У меня такое впечатление, что ты все время (свободнее время) занята этим процессом. Я даже могу себе представить, что двигаясь по квартире, закладывая белье в стирку итак далее, ты мыслимо уже фиксируешь свои мысли в предложения к следующему блогу.”
“Or is the way home in the rain enough to get you an idea and how to develop it? I have the impression that you are constantly engaged in this process in all of your free time. I can even imagine that while moving around in your apartment, doing the laundry, and so on, you are already thinking and shaping your ideas into sentences for your next blog post.”
Well… as in many things over the course of my life, my mother has proven herself to be scarily accurate in her vision. Often if I’m turning over an idea, whether I am doing it consciously or not, there is a running narrative in the back of my mind trying out sentences and expressions and making connections. It’s not really intentional and it’s not necessarily driven by the necessity of writing for my blog. It’s just how I think, especially if there’s a topic that I particularly obsess about.
Yet again, though, my mother doesn’t stop there. In a quintessential mothering move, she connects her own ideas about my writing process and finds something to worry about – having conceived of an idea and its implementation, what do I do to make sure I don’t lose it? Do I drop everything and start writing it right away wherever I happen to be? And is that safe?
“Селфон великая вещь конечна, но он порабощает. Можешь себе представить писателя или журналиста таскающего печатную машинку везде с собой. Смешно. Обходились раньше блокнотами или обрывками бумаги, чтобы уложить свои идеи в надежное место и воспользоваться ими позже. Похоже, но более безопасно, чем читать и печатать на ходу.
“A cell phone is a great invention, but it can enslave you. Can you imagine a writer or a journalist carrying a typewriter everywhere with him? It’s funny. We used to use notebooks or scraps of paper to put our ideas in a safe place and return to them later. It seems similar, but safer, than reading and typing on the go.”
Anyone who knows me does know that like many of my generation and younger, I am definitely “enslaved” by my smartphone. Constant access to email, news, Facebook, chat, internet, my Kindle content, camera and photographs, and more? Hell yes, please! I can easily see why shutting off now and then is healthy. Or how it can become intrusive. And I can definitely see how damaging it can be around children. However, as I discovered on my maternity leave, if you’re tied to your baby 24/7, that little 2″ x 5″ portal into the vast ether can be the lifeline for your sanity.
However, I do draw the line at writing my blog on the go. Mom – rest easy, I do not type it as I walk home from work. That’s not to say I don’t have a bad habit of sometimes checking Facebook or composing short replies while on the move. A child eats up so much of your free time that I do whatever I can to reclaim it elsewhere, even if that means guiding the stroller with one hand with my phone in the other as I make time to text friends or check my latest Kindle book deals on BookBub. It’s a bad habit. My husband would frown and give me the Disapproving Look if I were to do that around him. (I don’t usually. His Disapproving Face is a really effective guilt machine!) But sometimes the desire to slip into my virtual mental relaxation space for those few minutes when the wee beastie’s attention is away from me and is otherwise engaged by his surroundings is too much.
The actual truth is that I just keep everything in my head until I can sit down in front of my laptop. Sometimes I do lose ideas. I lament them for a little bit, and then move on to try and find new ones. I have actually tried to dictate blog entries using a few different speech-to-text apps to try and reclaim this time for the blog without being a walking/writing disaster waiting to happen. And this is how I discovered that my thought process does not seem to bend itself well to dictation. Perhaps it is a lack of practice, or feeling self-conscious about talking to myself into a microphone while out in public, but I find that the words don’t flow so easily out through my mouth as they do through my keyboard. I have come to realise that when I engage in a running narrative in the back of my mind, it is only partially vocalised. Yes, I think of specific words and phrases, but rather than using a part of my brain to direct my mouth in shaping those particular sounds with my mouth while at the same time keeping a hold of the tenuous thread of the sentence, I believe that I actually think of the idea of the words, and if one doesn’t fit I can reshape it in less than the blink of an eye, whereas directing a change of speech is a slow and cumbersome process. It’s like seeing the outline of things with your mind and not needing to see the complete content to know what you’re looking at.
Typing is different because I have been a touch typist for years. I don’t have to think about typing and I type much faster than I write. Creating the words using a keyboard is a matter of muscle memory to me now rather than a conscious physical process while the visual component of seeing the words on the screen without having to concentrate on their formation keeps the thread of my thoughts together. I remember being one of the first students in college to switch over to taking notes on a laptop because I was ever so much faster at typing than writing by hand, and I found that the very process of writing by hand required me to concentrate on the physical act of writing, leading me to miss out on the words being spoken by the professor as I inevitably fell behind in my notetaking.