Positively Steaming with Ideas

If I ever get stumped in a story, or need to come with an idea, I head straight for the shower. It’s about the only place I can go in my apartment where I won’t be interrupted by my adorable cat demanding to be petted and cuddled. It’s a retreat.  But that isn’t the only thing that makes it so ideal for writing. Something about the hot steam and water beating down on my scalp helps clear my head and chase away all the stress of the real world, giving me time to figure out where I need to go in my story from there. Maybe it’s because showering is such a necessary part of the real world that I don’t feel guilty for sitting around and doing nothing. Maybe steam is magical. I’m tempted to believe it is a mixture of the two.

Once I’ve stepped into the shower, there are usually two ways I gather ideas. In the first way, I draw from situations that happened in my life and left such an impact on me that I still remember them with startling clarity years later. These usually have a tendency to be moments of grief or embarrassment. These ideas tend to come to me unplanned and then float around in my head for months until I finally come up with a way to manipulate them into something interesting and find characters who want to tell that story and make it their own. This is how my latest NaNo novel got started back in May.

Sometimes as writers, we don’t have the luxury of thinking about an idea for months on end, nor any sudden bursts of inspiration at precisely the right moment. As a Creative Writing major with writing classes every semester, I developed a second way of gathering ideas. I learned how to force myself to come up with stories. Once again, I returned to what I knew. Rather than taking from personal experiences, I turned to my other classes for inspiration. When I took a course on Cleopatra, I wrote poetry about her life. When I was completely uninspired in one of my fiction writing classes, I turned to a play I had written years earlier and found a way to convert it into another format. The story took on new dimensions and allowed me to explore the characters in ways the play formatting had not allowed me to do.

When I was in high school, my theatre teacher gave us a scene and told us to write what was happening from the point of view of one of the characters present. One of my classmates chose to write from the point of view of the luggage. At the time her idea struck me as incredibly unique and when one of my college writing instructors gave us the challenge to write from a point of view that we were unaccustomed to, I decided to give my hand at writing a story from the perspective of a tree. I quickly learned why trees aren’t often the focal character.

Anything can turn into inspiration. I rarely see the entire story at the outset but rather obsess over a single “what if” idea. “What if a tree was sentient? What sort of story would it have to tell?”

Sometimes my ideas only take me a couple of pages before I realize there wasn’t enough in them to tell a complete story. Other times a single embarrassing moment in middle school can turn into 76,000 words.­

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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