A Little (Orange) Notebook

I’ve never been worried about running out of ideas, though I do worry about losing them. Like a lot of writers, I keep a little notebook for jotting down ideas. (And like most other things I own, I frequently lose this notebook.)

Honestly, this notebook tells me more about my own state of mind when I had an idea, versus the idea itself. Mos ideas in there are just little notes; they might form a character later or a single scene in a larger work. The ideas usually stem from something that happened to me, or something I saw, and lets face it — if real life were all that fascinating and exciting all the time, we wouldn’t be so in love with fiction.

For instance, despite the fact that I cannot find that little orange notebook, I distinctly remember a note in it: “Is motherhood like some sort of special club, where your membership fee comes in the form of an epidural and episiotomy?” I wrote that before I was pregnant, after feeling brushed aside while two of my friends chatted about new motherhood. There’s not a story there, not really — but I was grumpy and it felt like one at the time.

Another note dictates a character, who I’ve never found a home for: “A smoke-eared devil in oversized aviators, yellow like nicotine stains.” I remember that exact customer, when he came into the gas station to buy Marlboro reds on some autumn afternoon. He had dark hair messy hair. There’s a character there, but I haven’t found him yet. (Wait. Never mind, I just found him a home. Go team!)

To use what I’m certain is an overused metaphor, an idea is a seed. Ideas (seeds) don’t just spontaneously grow on their own. They need a writer who understands them (fertilizer), and they need characters and settings (dirt? nutrients? Shit, I’m not a gardener.).

And that’s the thing. Ideas are just one part in the complex equation of storytelling. They’re pretty much everywhere, and they by no means guarantee success or brilliance on their own.

So don’t sweat idea loss. You’re going to have ideas, and lots more of them. Sweat the big things: making time to write and deciding how you’re going to germinate those ideas. That’s the hard part.

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.

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