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Recycling the old

Yesterday I came up with a brilliant story idea. I mean it was brilliant. What’s the equivalent of winning an Oscar for writing a novel? That sort of brilliant. It really was. It would blow you away. I was sitting on the bed, minding my own business, giggling to myself at how brilliant the idea was. How original. When it got to the original bit, I sort of stumbled. It wasn’t original at all. It was an idea I’d had about 6 years ago that I’d forgotten all about until I saw the image of a teenage girl dressed all in black, looking lovingly at a pink hair ribbon. It was then that I got to wondering “Have I already been given all the ideas I’m going to have, or has the universe decided that it’s time for me to use just one of the ones I’ve already got?”

Being a writer for me is interesting. I don’t so much write as idea generate. I made a career out of it before my recent return to the socio-economic state of Unemployed Hobo. Seriously, that’s what I used to do. Generate ideas, research their commercial viability and then give them to someone else to accomplish.

I’ve laughingly said on more than one occasion if I could just sell the outlined ideas I’d make a fortune. It’s probably true too. I have notebooks and journals with ideas filling the page. I’ve worn pencils to the nub, drained pens of their ink like a creative vampire sucking blood. Ideas. Where do creative people get them? Damned if I know, I’ve never had to work for an idea in my life. It’s making the idea a living, breathing, creative project that causes the odd stumble into the abyss.

Yesterday I joined an online workshopping group that sprung to life through a Facebook page for the Australian Writers’ Centre. A past alumni started a thread that attracted the attention of dozens of people, which in turn attracted the attention of the owner of the Centre and about a fortnight later, there in my inbox was the invitation to be one of the first group of people to participate.

Various writing tasks and prompts will be given, and then the other members of the group will workshop the ideas. I liked the idea of being held to a task, held to a deadline, to reinvigorate my writing self to someone who writes more than ideas and blogs. Plus it generated about a hundred ways to generate writing tasks, there’s a surprise.

In the first exercise section was a video of Elizabeth Gilbert, the Author of Eat, Pray, Love talking about the elusive creative genius. The talk went for about twenty minutes. Watching it, it felt like it took a second. In the talk she discusses the pressures and fears of following up Eat, Pray, Love and the realisation that her “best” is probably already behind her.

She also talks about the historic relevance to creative people being wracked with fear and stress and a whole bunch of other things. She mentions the ancients and how they didn’t believe that Creativity came from the creator of the piece, but instead from the Genius who lived in the artists workspace. A sort of creative fairy who helped the artists to create and rubbed the whole thing with magical creative juice.

I liked her reference to the fact that before creative people were viewed as somehow different, that the ancients believed the Genius was mostly responsible. A Genie in the Wall.

Here is a link to the video. Take a few minutes to watch it if you have the time. She’s got a great and easy way of speaking that makes it all seem so believable and achievable.

Having signed up for the workshopping group, and watched the video, I then did what I always do; I spent a good twenty minutes wondering why I’d done it. Everyone else in the group was better than I am. They’re all brilliant writers. Now this is based not on the fact I’ve ever read anything they’ve written or even met any of them, but I decided they were. Me, I’m a hack, but they’re absolutely brilliant.

After working myself into a bad mood I decided to follow Elizabeth Gilbert’s lead. I went outside, stood in the icy cold darkness and starred at the moon. I realised it was almost a full moon and that cleared my head a little, cause I always got a tad special during a full moon. Anyway, I stood there and I looked at the moon, so bright in the clear night sky and I said;

“Alright muse, this is stupid and has to stop. Sure the other writers are good, but if you’re here to help me, well help me. I’ll do my part, you do yours and whatever happens, happens. I’m too old for this shit. And I’m way too old to always be too afraid to do anything in case I’m not brilliant. I don’t want to be brilliant. I want to be fun. I don’t want to write 500,000 on the meaninglessness of life and the search for the perfect burger, I want to write slutty, entertaining novels that people buy in airport news agencies to read on a beach. I want to write the sort of stuff that has readers keep coming back to because it gave them such a laugh, or such a cry, or such a laugh they cried. So you turn up, I’ll turn up and together we’ll do what we need to do, and if you’re not up to the task, get me someone who is.”

Now in a novel this is the point where the Muse/Genius/Genie in the Wall comes into shape and form and kicks me in the shins for being a rude and ungrateful prat. But nothing happened. The wind still roared and the sky stayed black. The moon didn’t grow or shrink or blush with embarrassment.

But what did happen was a moment. A split second of peace and a moment of belief. I stood in the dark of the late winters nights and I felt a sort of break and heal inside my head somewhere. Will it work, who knows. What I do know is I got an idea. It was brilliant. And it was recycled.

I took that to mean my Muse was happy enough to listen to me, if only I’d return the favour. I took it to mean that for me, trust; even of myself is not something that comes naturally.

So my Muse, who from here in out will be called Martha, and I came to an agreement. I’ll do my bit, she can do her bit, and together we’ll do something. Not just have ideas, not just recycle ideas, but we’ll work towards a final outcome.

And just remember if the book is brilliant beyond words, it’s my fault, if it’s crap, well you can take that up with Martha.

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43 year old Australian writer currently working on the first of a planned three book Epic Fantasy series. When he's not writing policy discussions, or tales of swords, Gods, and magic, he can be found making a mess in the kitchen, and turning perfectly good ingredients into crimes against humanity.

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