Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Unique, Things too Familiar, Problems to Be Solved

Week of December 4—What Do I Do With All These Ideas?!
Tuesday, December 6—Unique, Things too Familiar, Problems to Be Solved

In the town where I teach (Plant City, Florida) you’ll find a down-home, country-cooking restaurant called Fred’s. Fred’s is known for its huge buffet where food is served in the pots, pans, and skillets in which its cooked. I had eaten there several times before I realized there was a menu. After all, who needs a menu when you have that buffet? I can always find some favorites on the buffet—fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, green beans, dressing, rolls, and more. There are also foods there that I only sample on occasion—catfish, stewed tomatoes, and ribs, for instance. And then there are the foods I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot poll. (Collard greens and creamed spinach are two examples.)

My list of writing ideas generated during PiBoIdMo is a lot like the buffet at Fred’s. Some of those ideas I can already tell are going to be delicious favorites I can bite into and start writing. Others might be worth a sampling to see where they go. And a few, I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot poll. They are the creamed-spinach of my writing ideas.

Today I spread out my cards buffet style in front of me. And I did some sorting and refining.

First I looked through my buffet for unique ideas—ones I’ve never seen before, ones that really interest me, ones that I think can sparkle. I drew a star on each of those cards. (Yes, if you want to use golden star stickers, be my guest!) Then I did the same thing with my cards that just have titles.

Interestingly, I only starred 11 of my 34 idea cards. That’s 32.35%. About one third of my ideas seem unique or appetizing to me (to continue our metaphor from above). I starred four of my 20 title cards. (That’s 20% if you’re keeping track.)

My next step today was to do some culling of ideas. I threw out the card/idea: Uncle Saint Nick. It seems far too familiar—I know it’s been done before. I had an idea for a manners book, but when I looked on Amazon.com, I immediately found three other similar concepts. While I love the idea, there’s no need to spend time on an idea that’s been done already. (Unless I have a totally different take on it, and I don’t.)

Another way I have to cull out is to look for ideas that are too didactic. I am a teacher. Sometimes my writing ideas are heavy-handed when it comes to trying to teach something, make a point, or get a message across. I know that’s a problem I have, so I can look for those things. I either have to find a way to make ideas that are too didactic less teach-y and preach-y, or I have to throw them out.

Through this process I eliminated five idea cards. (Do not fear or fret! Even though I’m throwing away the cards, the ideas are still in my writing notebook.)

My final step for today was to bring all my starred idea cards to the top of the pile. Then I evaluated each with this question in mind: Is there a problem to be solved? I circled the star if there was already an obvious problem. I added a huge question mark by the star if there was no problem yet identified.

Something inside me fights the concept of having a problem to solve when I write. It goes back to being a teacher—sometimes I want to teach, instead of telling a story. But I’m a picture book author. I write fiction. Fiction has plot. A fictional plot has a character with a problem that needs to be solved.

If you don’t know the problem to be solved, there is no reason to go any further with that idea. Once you have identified the problem, then you can take the idea another step. As you sort through your starred cards, the problem may pop out from the title or the description you’ve written. Or with a little thought, the problem may come to you. Don’t worry if you can’t identify a problem for every starred idea. This is another culling-out process that will get us closer to the ideas that are ready to be written.

Place your circled starred cards on top of the stack and your starred cards with no circle directly behind them.

Your buffet of ideas now has your most tasty dishes at the front of the serving line. We’ll dig into these delectable ideas more tomorrow!

P.S. For all of those who are fretting over “losing” ideas—you may go back to one of those starred ideas in the future. Don't worry about leaving it for now. If you can't say goodbye, try, “See ya later!”


kkorenek said...

Great analogy, Rob! Gotta love a buffet :-) I feel the same about my ideas. I finally found the courage today to read my PiBoIdMo journal from cover to cover. I discovered the good, the bad, and the really bad! But hey, at least there were a few gems :-)

Rob Sanders said...

I agree completely!

Joanna said...

I had a laugh doing this. Some of the ideas, I just thought "What the heck were you thinking of??". The key is not to stop jotting down those random thoughts now PiBoIdMo has stopped. Now it is PiBoIdYe!