I’ve heard lots of rumors in my life, about how to be creative, what it takes to get a story onto the page. I guess I’ve probably got a writing trick for every day of the year by now. Fact is, I don’t use them.
I lost my temper once, when some well-meaning editor suggested I carry a book around to jot down my thoughts. Jotting. Write them all down. Capture everything that might go somewhere for me. The concept was presented to me as a cure-all, and I lost my cool.
It really seemed to me that this person imagined somehow, through my education, through the years of manuscripting, that nobody had ever suggested this to me before. It seemed they thought I’d never tried it. Of course I had. I couldn’t have gotten out of my high school without doing it. For those years, I lived by that rule.
Looking back, I think my teachers forced me to do that so I would put the habit down gratefully the moment I had the chance. Maybe I’m giving them too much credit. Nonetheless, on the day I got my diploma, I tossed my jotting book in the closet and never got a new one.
Jotting, according to Stephen King, is fucking useless. I agree. If I have a good idea, I will remember it.
What if I forget? It wasn’t a very good idea.
So what works for me? Boredom. Total, complete malaise.
That’s how this whole thing got started for me. Back then, the internet hadn’t happened yet. Hell, cable tv hadn’t happened yet. My folks were pretty restrictive about what I could read. So I started telling myself the stories I wanted to hear.
Maybe this is some kind of imprint left over from my childhood, but this is how the work begins for me. I don’t get inspired. I have no muses. I will create a situation where I am bored as fuck. My brain has a solution for that, which is to tell me a story.
Not very romantic, is it?
In Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” there’s a scientist who operates in a similar fashion. The way his employers get him to solve big problems is to bore him nigh unto death. He gets distracted wondering about how a turtle’s spine functions. For months, he’s fooling around with turtles instead of saving the world.
The solution, of course, is to take his turtles away. They leave his lab full of things that point him in the direction of the problem they’re trying to solve. Without his turtles, out of boredom, he gets on track with what they want.
Pretty much all of the time, I can’t get away from the damn turtles. I have to put food on the table, have a real life, and sometimes for me, those are turtles. So at this point, I’m grateful when I can throw the turtles into the closet with the jotting book, get good and bored, and fall happily into a world where I can report back on the doings of my imaginary friends.