The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"I" is for ideas

"I" is for Ideas

"Where do your ideas come from?" Ah, the classic query,
and every writer gets it. And the answer seems so
glaringly obvious to most that it seems simplistic
and infantile. Some create smart-assed answers to
brush people off (Harlan Ellison's infamous: "there's
a guy in New Jersey, and every month he sends
me a six-pack of fresh new ideas..."

Do you know that people actually come up to
Harlan after talks and ask for the idea guy's

Sigh. All this means is that people are not in
touch with their own creative process.
Everyone has one. Not everyone knows how
to mine it.

Simply put, creativity is drawing connections
between apparently unconnected facts. Seeing
a leaf, and imagining freeway offramps. Seeing
intertwining snakes in a dream, and imagining
a double helix. The truth is that all of us have
an absolute explosion of creativity every night
--our dreams. To get in touch with our
dreams is the beginning of connecting to our
creative source.

Keeping a dream diary can be an essential part
of the process of increasing our creativity.
Another is simply the principle "Garbage In--
Garbage Out." In other words, output will
never exceed input. In fact, GIGO is entirely
too generous. The truth is that if we eat
steak, we know what comes out the other end.
So...what happens if we START with crap? I
don't even want to go there.

So keeping a strong creative flow depends
on a few things:
1) Quality of input. It must be high-quality,
and daily. It must include intense experience
of life itself, observed and recorded in a journal
or in daily writing.
2) Quantity of output. You must write daily,
to keep the flow going and to learn how to
turn off the inappropriate "editor's voice."
3) Learn to discern. You must develop an
aesthetic sense. Of the ideas that come to
you, you must learn to determine which are
appropriate and usable.
4) Direct contact with the subconscious.
Meditate. Keep a dream diary. You have to
deliberately "thin" the walls between conscious
and unconscious mind. This is where the
gold will be found...but it takes work, and
the willingness to trust your own process.

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