When I'm sketching ideas on those graph paper pages, I feel more creative, and the ideas just flow!
I first encountered Alice before I was six. This sentence exposed me to literature's power to act like a can opener on a person's thought life: Alice has an idea AND the power to ignore it. Hmmm... Then the White Rabbit runs by and spares her the dilemma. Most of us have to decide what we're going to do next without the benefit of White Rabbits. And we do it based on how good we think our ideas are. Just how nice will it be to have a daisy chain?
How many ideas do we have in the course of a day? Maybe many, maybe few. But many of them go unrecognized. My mind--the only one I can speak on with first-hand knowledge--is like an interstate highway interchange. There are multiple lanes of thought--reminders, schedules, problem-solving and yes, ideas--traffic is speedy, cloverleafs loop around. Sometimes a thought gets stuck going around the loops and never gets on down the road. (Did I turn off the light in the garage? Did I click "reply" or "reply all"?) Traffic is heavy and the radio is always on. (Sometimes I don't realize what I'm thinking until I notice the lyrics of the song playing in my head.)
And there may be lots of ideas traveling up there, but in the noise and hustle they can be hard to recognize. How to spot one?
For me, it's a process of slowing down and of recognition. Recognizing a thought only takes a moment, but if mental traffic is heavy, that moment zooms by and is lost.
And the idea is usually wearing an oversized duffle coat and a dumb hat. Watching it drive down my mental interstate, I only get a glimpse, and may not pull it over so I can see the party dress or the clown costume under the dowdy outerwear.
Okay, I enjoyed playing with the highway metaphor. But my point is: most of my ideas arrive unrecognizable, half-baked. They look dumb, they sound dumb when I tell a friend. Occasionally a genuine White Rabbit runs by, and I know to follow that one. But the half-baked ideas--the daisy chains--can have the seeds of Wonderland lying dormant.
They do require work, because they aren't fully formed. An idea for a blog post pops up, and I sit down to type. I hammer out a bunch of paragraphs, delete at least half of them, delete my qualifiers and waffle-words, polish up the grammar...and then realize I need to revisit the germ of the idea I started with. So I go back, re-write, re-polish. Only then do I get to see what the half-baked idea even was.
One morning in 2002, a picture formed in my half-awake mind of a winged mailman on a bicycle. I wrote and illustrated his story, but it took a decade. Ideas take time to pursue, develop.
And I think we give up too quick. I think we leave a lot of our ideas by the side of the road with a flat tire, so to speak. What's the worst outcome? That this one is, truly, a Dumb Idea. And it fails, and we look dumb. Okay, we don't like it, but it doesn't kill us. And we learn, and use that dumb idea to do something different next time. The real, true, worst-that-can-happen is this: we don't try out the ideas we have, and a crust of don't-try-it forms on our soul, becoming almost impossible to cut through. We become so unaccustomed to looking for ideas that they practically have to jump out of the car and stop traffic to be recognized. My experience is that ideas are shy, and usually won't do that. They need to be coaxed, coddled, flirted with, before they reveal their potential. Most times, if I pursue an idea with a pencil or a keyboard, it reveals passenger-ideas that were in the back seat or held hostage in the trunk. Those follow-up ideas only come out of hiding if I pursue the original idea. (The highway metaphor only occurred to me after I started writing about the half-baked idea. That kind of thing.) I've learned to grab at ideas that whiz by, to make a note or a sketch or a phone call. The old principle is that if you honor and use what you've been given, you get more. And it applies to ideas.
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