Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Ride of the Wild Ideas

I wanted to write a blog post about blogging, because I’m meta like that, but I didn’t know how to start.

Then I remembered it didn’t matter how I started.


When I heard that the movie World War Z is nothing like the book (which I love), I didn't bother to see it in the theater. It’s a sigh-worthy situation.

Every time I read anything, my own personal movie plays in my head. I can't help but wonder, What was so hard about this, Hollywood? The story, the characters, all the makings of a good script were already there. You obviously didn’t end where you thought you would when you started. Did you get lost?

But I'm too hard on them, I think.


“It’s not that they’re not paying attention,” said the speaker during the extra credit lecture in college, as she described a Myers-Briggs type that – I promise – sounded nothing like me. “We call it,” she said, “an ‘Uncle Fred’s Bicycle Moment’.”

The speaker explained, “Say you’re in a room full of people talking about public funding. Public transportation comes up and someone makes an offhand comment about bicycles. 

“You immediately remember that Uncle Fred used to ride a bicycle, a red one. He loved that bicycle. He would ride it into town every day. Uncle Fred was an odd bird. He had that lisp, you know, and people used to make fun of him for it. That was so sad – he didn’t deserve to be treated that way. 

“As you have these thoughts, the conversation about public funding carries on without you, until finally, while everyone else is discussing property taxes and other very important things, you blurt out, ‘Why do people make fun of people with lisps?’”

Almost everyone in the lecture hall, myself included, pointed and laughed at the gawky ginger in the front row who was infamous for such outbursts. One of his friends couldn’t breathe from all the laughing and had to excuse himself, which only set the rest of us off again.

Smiling, I looked at the desk to my right, where my husband sat, straight-faced, cocking an eyebrow at me. “And just who are you laughing at?” he said.


There’s a series of children’s books about giving things to other things, and the trouble it can cause.

For example, if you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll want milk. You’ll go to the kitchen and discover you’re out. You and the mouse will trek to the store for milk, and you’ll decide to pick up some other stuff while you’re there. As you wander the aisles, the bleach will remind you that you need to treat the stain on that white shirt, so you’ll do that when you get home because you wanted to wear that shirt to the party next week that you still need to RSVP.

Or did you do that already? So you’ll get on Facebook to check the event page but instead you’ll see a cute cat picture, laugh at it, and spend an hour chatting with whoever else is online.

What were we talking about again?


One time, I wanted to write a post about my struggles to clean the house. Somehow it became a diatribe about robots (link here). After editing it down for the blog, I had three pages of unused notes about housecleaning and two more about robots which became another post on housework (linky), another on how frustrating it is (click here), and another about robots (click here or Skynet wins). You would think I’m running out of ideas by now, but each of those posts generated more notes which are waiting to be turned into still more posts.

I know I’m not the only person this happens to. Entire movie studios have this problem. We start with an idea or a book or a design, set out in good faith to foster and feed it and watch it evolve like a good little pokémon, and at the end of the day we have no idea what we’re looking at but we know it’s not a Charizard.

Somewhere, we got lost.

Somehow, the idea got away from us. It’s what they do.

People are always asking writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” and writers invariably respond with “Ideas are everywhere! You just have to look for them.”

But it’s not a matter of finding ideas: it’s a matter of taming them.

Sometimes I start with a perfectly sound idea, write for an hour or three, and end with a finished product: the idea gets used up and magically transforms into a story or a blog post or a newspaper article, which is generally very satisfying for me. I have tamed this idea.

Other times I write and come away with both a finished product and the original idea, pristine and unused, ready to be attempted again on another day. Surprisingly, this outcome is not as satisfying as the previous one.

I’m left scratching my head in wonder as the wild idea rides laughing off into the sunset astride Uncle Fred’s bicycle.

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