Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ideas, Ideas, and More Ideas -- Ideas, Everywhere I Turn!

I can really relate to '80s pop icon Gino Vannelli, because for thirty-two years I've been lost, living inside myself.  Lost somewhere inside my own dreams, to quote.  From the moment that very bright light went off -- a supernova, as I recall it that misty summer night when I was fifteen and the certainty that I was a writer, would be an author, took hold in my blood, my marrow, my soul -- finding things to write about hasn't been a problem.  Ideas, as a famous writer said recently during a panel at World Horror Con, usually aren't; it's finding the right ones.  I'm not as savvy as some writers about separating the wheat from the chaff, the solid from the flimsy, the good from the bad. During that summer in 1980 when I had six unwritten story ideas and began to pull my act together, displaying early promise at the level of organization I live my life to today, I've operated under a strict 'write everything you create to conclusion' policy (maybe to my detriment in the bigger picture, but not when it comes to the actual joy of creating, which is more important to me than the rest of the trappings associated with any level of success in a creative field). Good, bad, or ugly -- and there have been more than a few ugly children born of these fingertips -- I love them all.  Some of the ugliest taught me more about story construction and writing through to the end of a draft than the good and prettiest, which were written and sold and garnered praise with comparative ease.

My 'career' started with those six unwritten stories (a hundred-plus pager that same summer starred all of my neighborhood friends as characters and kept said friends riveted as they waited to learn what happened next).  When those six were completed and stored with pride in a plastic file box I picked up at the local Woolworth's Department Store for $2.99, I found myself with six more unwritten ideas. By December of 1982 on the night I quit high school, determined to write full-time, I had two dozen. After a five-year break in which I barely picked up my pen, I returned to my old ideas with two dozen more that had floated in the ether of my memory for half a decade.  I've written almost daily since; at one point in 2005, the number of unwritten story ideas inside my card catalog swelled to a monstrous 260.

(THEN: A folder thick with old story ideas long-since written
in first drafts and archived in my filing cabinets)
The number grew so ridiculously inflated because for ten years I worked constantly writing nonfiction features, columns, reviews, and celebrity profiles/interviews for numerous national magazines and a handful of prestigious newspapers like the Boston Herald and Metro Boston, the city's subway newspaper, to pay the bills.  I continued to pen short stories and novels during that time and sold more than a few.  But by the end of 2007, I made the determination that I was no longer going to write nonfiction and focus solely on the work I truly loved: my own original stories.  The ideas never stopped coming at me and taking up residence inside my idea box, where I often imagined them howling at night to be released.  They still haven't, through dreams, snippets of overheard dialogue, or pure, simple daydreaming (the novella "Brood Swamp" that I am so proud of that concludes my recently published collection of stories long and short, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-Six Tales from the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris, seized hold of me in 2005 while I stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes and staring into the deep woods beyond). While the past four years have been wonderful in terms of creative output and raw numbers (in 2010, I penned 100 individual fiction projects to completion, a mix of novels, novellas, short fiction, flash fiction, and even one short screenplay), the idea factory inside my skull has worked to keep up.  I presently have 125 unwritten ideas on note cards in the box. Since returning home from the western United States last month with three new ideas, another four have demanded I take notice of them and jot down their bare bones.

(NOW: Ideas completed in draft, notes logged in my organizer)
Two weeks ago, I woke from the most insanely captivating dream about a strange family that lived in a big haunted house at the end of a country road and almost immediately began to record the details on paper.  I won't say that "The Strange Family That Lives in the Big House on Lonesome Oaks Lane" wrote itself, but at every point in the bizarre story, which is, at its heart, about one unconventional family's love for its members, I found myself smiling and enjoying the characters, cheering them on to triumph over their travails. This past Sunday, while driving past our local golf course en route to the cinema, another latched onto me, and "Game of Golf" was born.  And just last night while preparing dinner, two clunky old cars traveling down our road unleashed yet one more story premise in this flash-flood of new ideas that surrounds me.  Story ideas...they're everywhere!

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post, as always. I love hearing about how came to be as a writer. I too don't seem to have a problem with coming up with ideas anymore now that I am more focused. Though sometimes a sub call will stump me, but then I just go to one that brings an idea out.