Sunday, November 15, 2009

Know the Soup You're In part 2

Well. Sunday night. With the help and love of family and good friends, I seem to be on the way to recovery. Not quite there, but improving. Orange juice, lots of Nat Geo and some Ramsey Campbell for comfort reading. Oh. And LOTS of sleep.

Anyway, sorry for the delay. As promised, here is the second portion of the WFC art lecture. Know the Soup You're In.

World Fantasy Convention Art Lecture
Part the 2, Some Thoughts on Ideas

Ideas are like stars, they’re endless.

Some version of the Drake Equation could be applied to ideas. Applying this equation, where

fraction of stars with planets = durability of concept


fraction of planets capable of sustaining life = materials and funding


fraction of those planets where life evolves = opportunity and environment

One could conceivably calculate the possibility of a well conceived, well executed work finished from universe of ideas just as one might calculate the possibility of life.

In other words, the ideas that make it to finished work are likely more rare than we think.

Think about it--the average human says between 300 and 1000 words per minute to herself. (hopefully, generally, silently) For the creative person, many of those words involve ideas.
That's a lot of information in a day, a week, a month.

Ideas are also like Soup. There are endless varieties, but only a few basic formulas. Like most humans, from a distance, soups all look the same. But generally, there's a background/backstory (stock), and symbols/metaphor (veggies and or meat), character (noodles) and the experience of the creator (flavor/spice.)

Ok. Soup is sort of a silly metaphor for art. But it sort of works, and that's the visual I started with.

If you don't like soup, then how about this?

Ideas are like assholes. Everyone has one. Everyone thinks his is special.
Everyone is wrong about that.

See? Soup is good.

Some Ideas should be written down. Some should not. Learning to recognize the difference takes both effort and experience. Sometimes writing an idea down can take the wind right out of it, rob it of it's magic.
I used to try to write everything down. I was terribly afraid a really good one would “get away.” My daughters joked that “hang on while I write this down” would be on my tombstone.

I've learned that this isn't the best plan, at least not for me.
It works better for me not to try to write down every idea, but instead to give them my full attention as they bloom and fade in my head. Let them go into the mix of other ideas. They’re raw data, bits that can and will combine with other bits and come out later as something more.

More than the sum of its parts.

Bigger inside than out.

Really good ideas don't get lost or forgotten. Really good ideas stick like glue.

I had to work long and hard to find out the kinds of stuff I needed to make note of. I had to learn to pay attention. Notes and lists can be good tools, used correctly. But they can become a form of procrastination. If you’re writing everything down, the good stuff gets lost in the fray. Not to mention that trying to write down every idea that comes to mind (think 300 - 1000 wpm) can make you crazy.

I work better if I treat ideas as living things. They are, in a sense, in that they are mutable, affected by their environments, they can be fed and they can die.

I often get my best ideas when I’m working. I can tell if an idea is good because it persists. It looks just as good the next day. And the next day. If it’s a really good idea it rings like a bell. It wakes me up at night.

If it’s a great idea it makes me sweat and/or pace. It makes me not care if my shirt is on inside out and backwards. It makes me forget whether I've brushed my hair. But not my teeth. Not so far, at least.

I’m not kidding about this one bit.

Note--- worse than writing:

Getting a fresh new idea is very exciting. It’s like falling in love. You want to shout it from the mountain tops. You want to email your friends. Eureka! But what you should really do is


Nothing sucks the life out of a good idea faster than yakking about it. Not even writing it down. Not even close.
Shut the hell up. Be quiet. Think. Work. Let the idea build its own momentum. This proves to work better for me. Over and over and over. Other creatives will tell you the same things. Ask the successful ones, the big guys. The beef.

They know exactly what I mean.

Besides, no one can ever, ever see your idea as you do. No matter how inspired and pure and holy. No one sees what you will/might do. No one sees anything except the work you've done.

Don't talk about it. No one gets it. They watch your lips move and nod politely. But they do not see. Or they say something completely deflating. It's not their fault. No one can see what's in your brain.
Trust me on this one. Be quiet.

I hope this saves you time and energy.

Ideas tend to work out in their own time, even though that doesn’t mean we should sit on our tuffets and wait. Ideas that are good come in their own time often after years of gathering the raw materials they’re made from. Like clear water from underground. It takes work to prime the pump. You have to put effort in to get something out.

Sometimes this timing is extremely inconvenient. Like love, it comes when one least expects it.

Sometimes it’s necessary to let inspirations wait, however impatiently, for other priorities.

Sometimes it’s necessary to drop everything, clear off space and run with it.

How to know? I’ve gotta tell you, I don’t know for sure. I’m still working on that one, but I seem to be gaining on it. It seems that now, these many years later, I have lots of hits and few misses.

Possibly the best we can hope for it to get better at knowing the difference.

Don't be afraid of ideas. At their core, they are few, but no two people create from the same recipe, from the same raw materials. Like soup, people look the same from a distance, but up close, we each have our own flavors.

Hope this was helpful. I'd enjoy and welcome discussion. Two brains are better than one, more is even better.



spacedlaw said...

This sounds all very familiar.
And yes, after that first shock, ideas like shadows (it makes them look better - their charms is but 50 % illusion) and they loved to be coaxed, cajoled and otherwise charmed from their retreat.

lisa said...

spacedlaw: beautifully spoken

so, sometimes you see ideas as hidden or shy? possibly they are obscured and overshadowed by other aspects of life?
It seems that sometimes our creative selves get pushed behind urgent, short-term needs.

Loraine said...

Shutting the hell up is an art I am struggling to learn. In any case, it would save me a lot of trouble..

I have a lot of ideas. It seems like I keep running with the not- so- good ones, usually.

I think ideas don't just play hard to get- they like to be played with. But I have to be careful there, as playing with it too much might change it into something so far different from its original state that it's not *quite* such a good idea anymore...

lisa said...

Loraine: I see that you too see ideas as living things.

Listen, learning to shut up is hard. It's a process--we practice and get better at it. Gives you something to look forward to when you're older!

lisa said...

hxr: for shame! fewk you.