Life in General, Writing

The Problem With Ideas

Lilies by Dessa Kirk in the South President’s Court
of Chicago’s Grant Park

The problem with ideas is that I have so many.

But there was a time in my life, when I was a wee baby writer, that I was afraid of my ideas. I was afraid that if I used my best ideas for a novel, the only ones I had at the time, I would never come up with more. Or the ones I did come up with in the future wouldn’t be quite as good as the first. I was afraid I would be a one book wonder, if that.

And now, I have so many ideas I barely know what to do with them.

But the problem with ideas is that they are fleeting. Unless you jump on one and ride it out immediately, it is bound to run off into the horizon, to scatter in the wind, to shift and jumble, or to flat out disappear, never returning with the same strength or brilliance it once had. Many times I have made the mistake of not harnessing my ideas immediately, sometimes because I was afraid of wasting them, and other times because I didn’t think I had the time or life experience to properly develop them. And now, those ideas don’t seem as promising as they once did.

The problem with ideas is that some ideas stifle others. The practical ideas get in the way of the creative ones, halting any promise of what could be in favor what seems to be. The problem with ideas is that the bad ones masquerade as good, whispering that you don’t have the time or energy for them right now. The problem with ideas is the good ones can be too shy to properly introduce themselves as the marvels they are, and they slip away, unnoticed, soon to be forgotten.

The problem with ideas is that, even when they are right in front of you, strong and new, shiny with promise, and you have -no, make- the time to capture them, they are scary. Even if you catch the flow of creativity and are buzzing with the possibility of what your idea may become, the fear that you may not do your idea justice, or that you idea is not good enough. At times, the fear is enough to make you halt, mid sentence, and never…

The problem with ideas is that, if not handled with care, they can become self inflicted wounds. They scab and scar, never quite healing no matter how diligently and tenderly you tend to them or how long you leave them alone. The proof of their existence is there, with only the regret of what you could have done better to keep you company until the next one arrives.

The problem with ideas is not knowing exactly what to do with them once they sprout, how to properly cultivate them. And not always recognizing when the bud of an idea is aching to bloom.

But I have an idea.

In honor of spring, which I’m hoping is right around the corner, I think it is time to stop thinking about my ideas and start doing something about them. It’s time to tend to the seeds and see if they can blossom.

Lilies by Dessa Kirk in the South President’s Court of Chicago’s Grant Park

Writing

Convos With Writers

When talking to anyone, especially kids, about writing, I tell them you only need to do two things to be a writer: read and write.

That’s it.

You don’t have to read any one specific thing. You don’t have to write a certain amount or with any specific frequency. Reading anything will give you experience in how your own writing should (or shouldn’t!) sound, and writing will keep you in practice of putting words down and develop your own personal style.

Just read. Just write.

When a friend and patron of a library job long, long ago invited me to not only participate in her online series #ConvosWithWriters, but be her first live interviewee at Lakes Community High School’s Writers Week, I jumped at the opportunity.

What a thrill! Wha an honor! What on earth could I tell these kids about writing when I, myself, wasn’t really a writer?

Except that I am a writer, I reminded myself. I read a ton and I write a little. And sure, my writing isn’t always toward my pie in the sky goal of becoming a published novelist, but it’s writing nonetheless. It’s out there on social media, sometimes here at this blog, often in my offline journal, and published worldwide when on assignment for my School Library Journal reviews.

It’s writing. And that’s all that matters.

It’s enough for me to consider myself one, and it’s enough for a local columnist with a feature literally about writers to count me as enough of a writer to chat about it.

So here’s your reminder (and mine, again): just read, just write, and you are a writer.

Now, get writing.

After you read my interview about writing, that is.

Life in General, Writing

The Art of Not Writing

This has been a difficult year to be a creative. And what is most interesting is that, in times one finds most trying, art is usually not only the best personal escape but also the best community builder when often community most needs building.

Try telling that to my fingers that cannot click away from an endlessly scrolling newsreel to the eternal chasm of a blank page and blinking cursor. Tell that to my thoughts so wrapped up in the unfathomable reality of now that I cannot bring myself to forge a less-than-perfect alternative.

I know that in any time, these are tried and true excuses for not writing, and despite my common fears and anxieties about my country’s newfound political situation, writing has happened and art has been created this year (and in other even more difficult times in history). In years past, I have learned not to give yourself an excuse to stall writing because instead of progress you will have nothing but excuses and that same empty page.

But this year, I learned that given exceptional circumstances, there is a time to give yourself space. There is room to allow yourself to just exist, to consume, to learn.

I haven’t created much tangible art in 2017, but in that space where creativity would normally dwell I was able to create something else. I have created an awareness I previously did not possess, an empathy beyond what I previously did, a new way of viewing and absorbing the world around me that would not have been possible if I hadn’t allowed myself some stillness in that space.

I’ve created the ability to achieve some sense of peace even within a tempest.

And in 2017, stillness and peace are of the essence.

So this is the art of not writing, and these are the fruits it bears. Not knowledge, but wisdom. Knowledge is understanding that idleness does not create art, but wisdom is appreciating that there are times and circumstances when mindful idleness can create something else instead.

Something bright and powerful. Something that cannot be held back. Something that will propel you forward into your next endeavor and through your next finish line.

Something to say. A story to tell.

And when you have something to say, a story to tell, you cannot help but speak.

It’s time to start talking.

Life in General, Writing

The Scariest Thing of All

Today is Halloween; a day filled with tricks and treats and scary things.

For some, that might mean ghosts and goblins and a house handing out raisins instead of candy.

For others, that may mean having to go to work all day then soldiering the kids around the neighborhood for trick-or-treating until curfew.

For me, it means my beloved Chicago Cubs hanging onto their World Series run heading into Game 6 in Cleveland tomorrow (#GoCubsGo!).

Oh, and that tomorrow also begins NaNoWriMo and, despite having been abroad for the better part of October, I’ve decided to participate.

I tried to do NaNoWriMo a few years ago, in 2014. I know that it’s never the perfect time to write, but that year was more than not a good time: I had recently moved from the city to the suburbs and started a new, full-time job. I did a few days’ worth of writing before completely falling off the wagon.

That novel I started in 2014? That idea still lingers and, while I have those couple hundred errant words from my NaNo past, I plan to forget they exist and begin anew this November, hopefully writing the prescribed 1667 words a day until my little idea is a shitty first draft.

I’m not totally unprepared. I did an outline earlier this month (with a small push from a writing friend I’ve begun meeting with to check each others’ progress) and so while I won’t be completely pantsing… it sure feels like it.

And that’s scary.

But writing is scary. Life is scary. You win some, you lose some, you come back from being down 3-1 to win it all in some…

But you don’t know until you try. And try as I might, 2016 has been one heck of a year for me so far (I got a new job, got married, traveled abroad twice, moved back to Chicago, cheered my Cubs all the way to the World Series…). Could it also, somehow, be the year I finish the first draft of my long sought after manuscript, too?

It’s the scariest thing of all, embarking on a journey whose ending you’re unsure of… but most things worth doing are scary.

So let’s do this.

Life in General, Writing

Settling In

What visions of grandeur I have when planning my perfect writer life.

I will wake up with my husband (so early, he rises), we will walk the dog together, and then I will make us coffee while he gets ready for work. As the door closes on his departure, my laptop will open and my productivity will arrive. And then, I will write. And then feed the dog. And then write. And then walk the dog. And then write and write and write until lunch. I will walk the dog again, and then I will read (or perhaps edit another project) until dinner. Then, I will have family time with my dog and husband for the rest of the night.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

Having just gotten married and moved from the suburbs to the city -not to mention having an actual brick-and-mortar job I have to show up to every few days- I have far too many affairs to settle to fall into this routine. I have last names to change! Thank you cards to order, write, and send! Boxes to unpack! Closets to organize! Essentials (like.. a desk) to purchase! Books to read, review, and recommend! Storytimes to lead! I mean, I should wait until I have less on my plate, right?

Except that, if I wait for the perfect time, for fewer obligations to fill the space between sunup and sundown, I will be waiting my entire life to begin. And I am far more of an Alexander Hamilton than an Aaron Burr, sir. If you are not familiar with the story of Alexander Hamilton (or the Broadway musical I am currently obsessed with), that means that I would rather “write day and night like it’s going out of style” than “wait for it.”

And write I have. Inspired with a picture book idea, I flew through a first draft that was clunky, too long, and not at all what I wanted… but it was a huge learning experience. That first draft turned into a second draft that dealt with the plot issues I saw, but was still as just as long and twice as bulky. A third draft (currently in edits) focuses on killing my darlings, paring down unnecessary words and exposition into something that might actually seem like a picture book instead of a novella for preschoolers.

Here’s the catch. I always knew that it was better to write -no matter what else I had going on in my life- than to not write. But, for the first time that was not perfectly convenience for writing, I acted on it. And now, when people ask how my writing is going (and oh, do people ask how my writing is going…), I can’t describe how great it feels to tell them about my progress instead of saying “Oh, well, you know… it’s going…”

So here’s to settling in. Not into to a lifestyle that’s comfortable to write in, but into a dedication to writing even when it’s not comfortable.

And I guess that goes for wedding thank you notes, too…