Inspiration Spreads Outward…

Three first editions of Barbie dolls from 1959...

The start of a wonderful story, the original Barbie dolls from 1959Image via Wikipedia

…kinda like spilled applesauce. It’s thicker and slower than, say, milk, but just as inexorable.

I’ve been kicking around some ideas for days about the series of short stories I planned on putting together, many of which are spin-offs of Candy Apples. One of those characters is a teenager, so I was thinking about what her story or background could be. Since the stories all center around addiction, I was trying to piece together why someone so young would be in recovery from an addiction. I put it out of my (conscious) mind when I sat down at work.

The job that I have is one that is repetitious and requires little active thought from me. It’s very easy to attend to my job on one level and let the rest of my active mind wander.

On this particular day, something brought an odd thought to my mind about a Barbie doll. This poor doll was having a rough existence. There are two types of Barbie doll owners (of the little girl variety) that I’ve experienced: one who loves and cherishes her Barbie and one who takes out all of her frustration and anger, along with any maltreatment she suffers, on her Barbie doll. I’ve read that many psychologist/psychiatrist watch children playing with dolls as part of their assessment of them. A barbie doll would know all of a little girl’s secrets.

Of course, I wasn’t consciously making any of these connections sitting in my cubicle. No, I was simply thinking of a Barbie doll in the midst of a tortured little existence. The image persisted, despite my efforts to draw my mind elsewhere, so I wrote it down. As soon as my pen hit the paper, the image expanded. Now I could see different indignities poor Barbie had suffered at the hands of her tormentor, including having her long hair shorn from her well-shaped head. The thing was, this Barbie wasn’t bitter (hello, alliteration; how are you today? :D); she felt she was better off than the little girl who owned her.

All of a sudden, I could see her: my teenaged recovering addict as a little girl, acting out her agression on a defenseless Barbie, as others brought their rage down on her equally defenseless head. I saw, clear as day, her mother, hinted at in Candy Apples, and knew her occupation, where she lived, how she was raising her daughter, and why she was raising her that way. I began to get a picture in my mind of what made this woman tick. The picture went from a close shot of a tortured Barbie’s painted on smile, to a wide angle view of a childhood.

Many times throughout the day, I have thoughts and ideas that seem to have no correlation with the things I’m concentrating on. Sometimes, as I said in Potato Chip Writing, they have to do with other stories I’m working on, or fresh stories I’ve yet to write. But sometimes, when I follow a stray idea down the rabbit hole, I come out the other end right in the middle of the piece I was supposed to be working on.

Sometimes it pays to take the path less traveled by. Sometimes, it makes all the difference.

Have you ever had an image or idea turn out to be the start of a piece you were trying to write, offer you insight into a character, or spark a sequel to a work? Do you follow ideas down the rabbit hole? What are some of your best “rabbit hole experiences”? 

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Potato Chip Writing

Pringles chips (sour cream and onion flavor)

Since I couldn't find Ruffles Sour Cream and Cheddar, these will do... Image via Wikipedia

I used to love Ruffles Sour Cream and Cheddar potato chips. They were just so good–greasy, cheesy, salty goodness on a thin little chip. I couldn’t wipe my hands on my clothes for the grease (and the cheese), nor did I want to. No, you had to lick a finger covered in cheesy powder.When it came to chips, I am was one of those people the advertisers talked about. I couldn’t eat just one potato chip; in fact, I might have been known to shove eat more multiple chips at the same time.

I have the same problem with writing. I have so many pieces I’ve started and stopped over the years, pieces that still have life left in them, pieces that are just so good. I know I should really be focused on one particular thing at a time, but like potato chips, I can’t decide on just one project. I don’t want one story to whither on the vine while I’m working on another. When I’m right in the thick of a rough spot on one, I get inspiration on the rough spot of another. I can’t let that inspiration pass.

Just the other day, I was thining about something or other I’d read somewhere, when an insight into one of my characters struck me like a bolt from the blue. I suddenly knew her motivation. I still don’t know what she’s hiding (at least, not all of it), but I know why she’s giving another character the runaround. While this insight opens up a whole world of possibilities for the Southern Gothic Novel, I’m supposed to be finalizing the finalizing of Candy Apples. I was supposed to have it sent out for publication already, supposed to be embroiled in the long submissions process while working on the other pieces in that series. Yet, just when I get to a rough patch, this happens.

I’m not fooled though. I know that this is just an attempt to get off track. I get these “ideas” all the time while I’m editing my dad’s book, researching, working. These ideas are my brains way of escaping a tough or mundane task. The truth is, if I take this one potatoe chip at a time, I can still savor the taste and fulfill the craving. I can take my time and investigate each chip for the dreaded burned parts, or the bits with potato skin still left on them. I can decide whether or not it’s bad before I’ve bit into it. The great thing about doing things this way is if it’s a good idea, it’ll keep until I get to it, just like the really cheesy, bright orange chip in the bag will still be in the bag until I eat it.

How do you cope with errant ideas belonging to other works? Do you follow it down the rabbit hole, or do you stick out that rough spot in your current work? What techniques do you find useful to combat this lesser known form of procrastination?