Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Secrets of Kidlit: I Have No Secrets (Or Do I Actually Have Too Many?)

When I set out to write this post, I had a minor freak-out. I sent Gail a panicked text message. I signed up to write a Secrets of Kidlit post! What was I thinking? I don’t know any secrets. Do you have any I can borrow?

Ever the awesome one, she reassured me that I probably could come up with a secret. After all, these posts are so great because they can be about almost any aspect of writing.

And thus, my minor freak-out escalated to a MAJOR freak-out. (Not that I don’t appreciate your advice, Gail. But my brain sometimes works in strange, unexplainable ways.)

When things are super open-ended, it’s generally supposed to make us happy. Yippee, freedom! We can do whatever we want. Par-tay!

But for me – and I’m guessing I’m not the only one – too much freedom can be overwhelming. There have been many weekend nights in my life where I’ve been paralyzed by possibility. I sit there and sit there, thinking about how I could go to a coffee shop, do something with friends, take a walk, catch a concert, watch a movie, etc. And guess what I end up doing most of those nights? Nothing. At. All.

The same can be said about writing. When you set out to write a novel, it’s so exciting. The world is your oyster. If you can think it, you can write it.

And that’s where a lot of people freeze.

Before I wrote my first book, I chalked my lack of writing up to the fact that I didn’t have the perfect idea. But I think I was full of crap. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t have an idea; it was that I had too many ideas—there were constantly various characters and situations flying through my mind—and I didn’t see how they could possibly fit together, and I was scared of trying and failing. After all, I’m the person who would rather do nothing than go to a concert and realize I would’ve rather spent my night seeing a movie. But even if the concert isn’t the perfect choice at the time, isn’t it better to have had an experience?

It’s okay to start writing with one idea in mind, realize it doesn’t work, and shelve it. It’s okay to switch gears and start writing something else. And it’s okay to do nothing, too, but not for so long that it becomes too daunting to start again.

For me, it all comes down to organizing all the shenanigans in my mind. It helps me to break my ideas down into less overwhelming categories. I have an ongoing chart in a notebook – nothing fancy, just three boxes with headings: character, plot, and title. Sometimes I have an idea for an awesome character, so I jot it down. Sometimes I have an idea for this really cool thing that could happen – but I don’t know any of the other details surrounding it. Same with title. I’ll think of a super cool one but have no idea what kind of story it could tell. I write it down anyway.

Then, when I look over my chart, it’s amazing to see how my seemingly random assortment of ideas actually fit together. It doesn’t work magically every time, but usually my random character can somehow connect to my random plot and make a not-so-random book. Suddenly my overwhelming amount of not-fully-formed ideas combine into one this-could-really-be-something idea, and I’m no longer paralyzed by possibility; I’m excited by it. Much like what happened after I stopped freaking out about this post, wrote a few ideas down, and realized that the perfect one was right in front of me. Thanks, Gail!

Now, if only there was a way to combine everything I wanted to do on a Friday night without being totally exhausted on Saturday…

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