Storms and Drought

Weather and writing. More generally, weather and creativity. They are inextricably linked together through metaphor.

Throwing out ideas is a Brainstorm.

Ideas come in a flood—or sometimes a torrent.

Ideas come out of nowhere like a bolt of lightning.

Weather seems a particularly apt analogy for creativity. They both seem out of our control—random even. While weather forecasting has given us more lead time to react to weather, we still have no actions to control the air and water around us. When ideas come we are similarly expected—and we’re generally happy—to simply weather the storm.

While there are tips and tricks to keep the creative stream flowing—write every day at the same time, use handwriting in a journal to warm up, etc—we have all been struck down by writers’ block from time to time.

There’s weather for that, too.

Ideas dry up.

A chronic lack of ideas is a drought—or somewhat less frequently, a depression.

If you’re stuck in a rut and can’t get out, you’re in the doldrums¹.

While not universal, the tendency to relate our creativity to natural phenomenon is certainly widespread—cutting across several languages, and not limited to the cultures that spread out from Europe.

This close metaphorical tie has an interesting side effect. With weather there is no shortage of terms for describing when weather goes wrong, yet there’s a dearth of terms for nice things like a pleasant, sunny day, with a short rain shower for good measure. Similarly, there are few elegant ways to describe the condition of having just the right balance between new ideas and the time to explore those ideas.

This is all scene setting for the situation I’ve found myself in. While I’m not swimming in free time, I do have some. But when I sit down to write, I find myself tilling the dry, crumbly ground for even the hint of an idea.

 


 

¹ Doldrums refers to those parts of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans affected by a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. The doldrums are noted for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered boats for periods of days or weeks (paraphrased from Wikipedia).

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Nurture vs. Nature

url-18Where do your ideas come from? Do they spring into your head not-quite-fully formed (Nature), or are they the process of laborious trial, error, sweat and tears (Nurture)?

Are you the type to go to a coffee shop with a notebook and pen to brainstorm ideas for a new story? Can you look back over these old notebooks and see the idea develop over time–from crossed out, embarrassing fist lines and awkwardly incomplete characters until you can finally see the semblance of a summary paragraph?

Or are you the type–like me–who finds themselves jumping out of the shower (or pulling over the car…or at a friend’s house asking for scrap paper) to write something down before the fleeting thought vanishes again?

Before you answer, we both must acknowledge that most of us are probably some mix of the two extremes. However, for most of us, one of these processes is dominant over the other. For me, a programmer with a touch of OCD, working out an idea on paper can often devolve into a messy organic flowchart where I try to list all the possible branches and outcomes of an idea. I have much better results thinking about the subject matter or a character, and letting my subconscious mind work on whatever it wants to work on within the subject.

Sometimes this results in an interesting character–which I’ll sketch out on paper, so I don’t lose her voice–then it’s back to casually mulling over the plot, or setting, or something else about the story. Sometimes, the other parts of the story come first. Over the years this has let me base my stories on plot, characters, settings, themes, and once I even based a story on an idea for the structure of a story.

It’s not hard to find a bevy of articles espousing–or attacking–either of these methods. Just a couple days ago I read an article saying that those ideas which come to you in the shower, or while you are drifting off to sleep, aren’t actually worth writing down, because they’re just not good enough.

To most, if not all, of these opinions I say, “BAH!” What they nearly all fail to acknowledge is that everyone comes to their own ideas by a different process.

Those ideas that come to me while my mind is idling in the shower are good ideas. I know this because I’ve written them down. They are not, though, fully-formed, fleshed-out ideas. But I recognize them for what they are–part of the puzzle that will fit together to become my story.

One of the most important things you can do as a writer is to understand where your own ideas come from, and learn how to capture them on paper.

What about you? Where do your ideas come from?