Friday, September 19, 2014

To Be Creative, Don't Hoard Ideas

Sometimes I meet or hear about a writer who thinks ideas are a rare, precious resource. These writers hoard ideas like a squirrel hoards nuts, locking them away no one can ever see them. They're frightened to share their ideas with others lest they should be stolen. They spend useless time studying copyright law to keep others from copying them. They work for months or years on a story way past the point where more polishing is necessary, because they think they're only going to get one shot at a good idea.

This is all nonsense. Talking about your ideas with others begets more ideas. I say, if someone else steals your idea, good for them! If they're a good writer, what they do with it won't look anything like your story anyway. And if they're not a good writer, why do you care what they do with your idea? And forget copyright--leave all that up to your agent and publisher, although my guess is the hoarders rarely get to the point of having an agent or publisher.

I'm something of a perfectionist, but once you've gotten your story to a point where more work on your story doesn't change the story's quality, move on to something else. There's usually a natural point where if you're paying attention, you realize you've pretty much reached the limit with the story you're working on. If you spend longer than that on it, you're just gumming up the creative part of your mind that needs new things to work on.

You should have so many ideas that if one doesn't work out, you have a hundred more to pick from. The thing to do about ideas is not to protect them, it's to stoke the furnace in your mind that produces them. And just as you don't gain strength by resting your muscles all the time, but by using them vigorously and often, so it is with your creativity. Write lots of stories, poems, letters! (Blog posts!) Keep a notebook with you to write down story ideas whenever they occur to you. If you have a funny or frightening dream, consider how you might adapt it to written form. (Lots of my best ideas come from dreams.) And join a writers' group, where you can discuss all sorts of ideas with other writers!

Cross-posted at The Writers of Chantilly Blog

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What I'm Reading: Complete Peanuts, 1981-82

The Complete Peanuts is a noble project to publish every strip of Charles Schulz's Peanuts, from its inception in 1951 to its final panel in 2000.  It's a gargantuan undertaking, and a new volume covering two years is issued every six months.  The project is now up to the early 1990s, but I'm a little behind and have only reached 1981-82.  I've reviewed two previous volumes of the Complete Peanuts, the 1977-78 volume here, and the 1979-80 volume here.

The volume continues the trend of the previous two in that each one is just a little less sharp than the one before, the long-running gags a little more tired, the new ideas a little less inspired. For instance, there's only one new character introduced here--Marbles, another of Snoopy's brothers. I'm pretty sure more members of Snoopy's family are not what the strip needs at this point. Anyway, Marbles is a down-to-earth dog, and is fairly mystified by his visit to Snoopy and his constant imaginative antics. He doesn't have much personality and I'm not sure he ever showed up again.

Much funnier is a sequence in which Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty enter a bowling tournament. Patty lords her high average and correspondingly high handicap over Charlie Brown's more modest handicap. They both wonder at the identity of the terrible bowler with an average score of one, only to find Snoopy nonchalantly strolling in. Unexpectedly, Charlie Brown leads the tournament, but in the final frame he's so nervous he bowls the ball out the front door. It rolls across the parking lot and through a pumpkin patch where Linus and Sally are waiting for the Great Pumpkin to show up. When Linus is knocked out by the bowling ball, he assumes he fainted on seeing the arrival of his hero. Good stuff with some well-timed punchlines, and really rewards a familiarity with the strip's recurring themes.

Other highlights are a long-ish sequence re-uniting Snoopy and his tennis doubles partner, Molly Volley, and one of my favorite on-going gags, Snoopy's hobby as a hack writer and his never-ending quest to get published (I guess I can identify!).

Still, we're well into the twilight years here. Unless a reader is interested for some reason in one of the particular strips or sequences in this volume, I'd recommend one of the older books.  For me, the best ones are from the 1960s, with the strip maintaining a pretty high degree of quality through the 1973-74 volume. I suppose I'll get the next one, but as with the previous couple, I'm really not sure if I'm going to follow this through all the way to the end.