Those Ideas

ONE up mushroom : tshirt painting, san francisco (2013)Another 37, day 12

The other day as I walked out of work I saw a neat looking mushroom on the grass. I was extraordinarily tired on this particular day because it was the morning after Daylight Torture Time day, an alternate version of Daylight Savings Time day that overlays the usual version and has exactly the same effects, except that it can only be perceived by those of us cursed to work Sunday mornings. I assure that on that day we hate all of you. Also probably other days? We’re an angry people, us Sunday workers.

I was also tired because, despite working Sunday mornings, I always go out Saturday night. Hey, you’ve got to live, even if your version of living involves Saturday Dungeons and Dragons where you play some kind of elf ninja assassin who is the scion of a fallen magical kingdom. Not that you would ever admit such a thing on a blog. Anyway, the point here is that I was very tired, but I was also in a very good mood because I was walking out of work, which is the desirable direction. Also we gained a level in the game the night before. Hypothetically.

I was tired, in a good mood, and I saw an interesting mushroom. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of writing—for evidence see…this blog post– and during those phases my brain generates a lot of story ideas. Sometimes they are passing fancies, and sometimes I fixate on them long enough to come up with an actual narrative. But they almost always seem at least mildly amazing during the moment of conception. I like to think that my brain has a filter where it only lets the good ideas through. I like to think a lot of things.

As soon as I saw the mushroom my synapses lit up and got to work. What if there was an entire region composed of just these mushrooms? Wouldn’t that be fascinating? A whole kingdom. Some kind of…mushroom kingdom! The idea danced around in my mind, and I got all the way to my car—a good, embarrassing 45 seconds—before I realized that “Mushroom Kingdom” wasn’t a new idea. Did I mention I was tired?

Not all fiction writers come up with a lot of ideas. Not all writers are even interested in coming up with a lot of ideas. People have different writing superpowers, and idea generation is just one of them. It’s one I happen to have, but I’m honestly rather jealous of people who have fewer ideas about crazy stuff and, I don’t know, naturally write rich dialogue or distinctive characters. Their grass always looks so much purpler than mine.

I don’t know what it’s like inside of the minds of other idea-writers, but I have a feeling it’s just as messy and ridiculous as it is the chocolate factory perched atop my own neck. The thing is, an awful lot of being good at something is just about caring about it. Research into expertise shows that the best violin players aren’t the ones with the most natural talent, but the ones who practice the most. Studies of genius show that the most intelligent people are always deliberately learning; they don’t just suck in information, they fixate on it. Likewise I find ideas intoxicating for their own sake, so I think about them; I pursue them. I’m sure I’m not alone.

On the other hand, coming up with a lot of ideas means coming up with a lot of bad ideas. And being fascinated by them. Certain ideas pop into the mind and seem amazing, but are either really stupid or too nebulous to articulate in a way that is even a little interesting. I make lists of my ideas so that I can come back to them later, and whenever I read through those lists I have to conclude that one of the anthropomorphic beings sits in the abstract representation of my brain and runs my creativity is, in fact, a dumbass. He probably wears a stupid hat.

Right now I’m combing through a list of horror story ideas for a horror comic I’m going to be working on with a friend. There are some pretty cool ideas in there, but there also a few that are…less cool. Here are a few of my favorites, copied exactly as they appear in the file:

  • Creepy wooden doll that is creepy in some way.
  • A horrible church, where everyone gets up to horrible things.
  • Something about a statue? Like, maybe an evil…statue. Ugh.
  • There’s something here about fog. A really good idea. About fog. I don’t quite have it.
  • A man who hates trains.

I don’t remember the moment I came up with all of those. But I can assure you that each of those ideas seem to me, for at least one, crystalline moment, utterly brilliant.

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