On Creativity and Writing: Making the Most of Ideas, part VI — Treasures In the Attic


I am spending this weekend in Toronto, where I am attending the World Fantasy Convention, probably my favorite of all the cons I go to each year.  It’s a working con, what some call a professional con — most of the con members are professionals:  authors, editors, agents.  People come here to catch up with old friends, to do a bit of business, and to talk shop.  I wish some of my MW friends were here with me, but as it is I’m getting to see folks I haven’t seen in way too long.

And I have needed this kind of a weekend.

I have been remarkably unproductive in recent weeks, for reasons that really don’t have much to do with writing.  Suffice it to say that life has been leaning on me a bit more than usual.  I’ve been distracted, thinking about whole gobs of what I’ll call “stuff,” because this is a family-friendly site, and the word I want to use is less family-friendly . . .  Some of it is work-related, most of it is not.  The bottom line is, I’ve been struggling to get myself in front of the computer.

So let me begin with this:  I want to apologize to all of you for the many times I have told you to put your butts in the chair and write, as if that’s all there is to it, as if the only thing preventing each of us from writing that great story we’ve been looking for is will power and bit of time.  Sometimes we can’t write, not because we’re blocked, or because we lack the passion and commitment, but simply because there is other stuff we have to do and deal with.  Life, which can inspire, which can guide us, which can be the source of so much that is good and fun and exciting, can also be complex and unforgiving and, yes, distracting.  I should know this without having to be reminded.  I’m very understanding when my wife or my kids are having these kinds of days.  I’m less forgiving of this sort of thing in myself.  And I fear that I am too glib and facile when it comes to doling out advice.  So again, my apologies.

The truth is, I know that if I could write, I would welcome the diversion, the outlet, the catharsis.  I’m certain that if I could make myself start a story or book, I would throw myself into it, drawing upon everything that’s churning inside of me right now.  I can almost imagine how good that would feel.  If only I could do it.  If, if, if.  

So what am I doing about this?  Well, I would love to tell you about these cool techniques I’ve learned for channeling all of my churning emotional energy into positive artistic output.  But I haven’t learned any.  Instead, though, I tried something this morning that has me thinking creatively for the first time in several weeks.

I have lots of discarded projects sitting on my computer’s hard drive.  Actually, “discarded” is probably the wrong word.  I haven’t discarded them so much as I’ve set them aside and then forgotten about them, like a child distracted by shinier, cooler toys.  And today, I’ve been reading them, rediscovering the creative spark that first got me excited about them.  One of them is a pirate short story that I started around the time Misty and others were submitting stories to the Rum and Runestones pirate anthology.  At the time, the Thieftaker books were still set in an alternate world, and so was this story.  Ethan Kaille, the hero of the Thieftaker series makes an appearance, as a younger man, still in uniform.  But the POV character is a pirate named Corinne Bissiri — the so-called “Ebon Blade.”  Here’s the opening:

If Corinne had known that so many people would come to her hanging, she would have worn the red doublet instead of the blue.  She’d chosen the blue because it worked well with grey, and it was always overcast here in Belsan.  But the red was bolder.  It made a statement.

“Next time,” she muttered, looking out over the rabble and turning her neck slightly so that the coarse rope wouldn’t chafe so.

I love those opening lines.  In fact, I love the entire story, at least what I wrote of it before abandoning it.  Why did I give up?  Well, I was in the process of giving up on the alternate world approach and turning Thieftaker into a historical, and while converting the novel proved easier than I had expected, this piece couldn’t be saved, at least not as a Thieftaker story.  But now I’m wondering if I can use it in some other way.

After reading the story, I turned to a novel idea I started working on several years ago.  Again, I LOVE the idea, which is unlike anything I’ve worked on before:  a futuristic urban thriller with SF and fantasy elements blended together.  I really like the first few pages I wrote before giving up on it.  Most of all, I am infatuated with the main characters, whose sketches I read earlier today.  So why did I give up on it?  I’m not sure, really.  I have a lot to learn before I can write this one — lots of research to do.  But really, I think I just got distracted by other projects.

The point is, though, that looking at these old projects has been like rummaging through my imagination’s attic and finding forgotten treasures.  I don’t know if I’ll rework either of these stories.  What I do know is that reading through them has kicked my mind into gear again.  For the first time in weeks, I feel like writing, and that, is a very good feeling indeed.


David B. Coe

21 comments to On Creativity and Writing: Making the Most of Ideas, part VI — Treasures In the Attic

  • After running around in the cold in Indiana in a Cthulhu LARP, I got the plague…and a desire to write a piece of Mythos/Lovecraftian based writing, and I did have a little gem up in the attic I’d started a couple years ago but set aside for other things. Pulled it back out, read it again, thought “what was I thinking!” a few times, fixed some issues, and now I’m working on finishing it. Maybe someone will even pick it up. That’d be nice.

  • I could have written this post before heading up to Toronto (well, the first half, anyway, about having trouble settling down to write.) Our conversations up in the Great White North certainly helped me to reframe some of what I’m trying to accomplish. It was great to see you at WFC, and I look forward to reading the fruits of your newly-settling labors!

  • Maybe next year I’ll go to WFC, it always sounds like so much fun when I hear folks talk about it! I’d like to say life has gotten in the way of my writing–and to some extent it has–but I’ve also just not BIC’d enough lately (and this is true with other BIC things in my life, like exercise!). I spent a good chunk of yesterday dozing on the couch. I could have written instead. (I did do some other work in the morning, but I should have done more). I’ve fallen into the “I’ll just edit some stuff to start” mode, and I know I’m killing time. It’s also a product of the fact that I know what comes next in the story, and I’m not really eager to write it. It’s a good scene, just violent and sad and ugly. The death of Aunt Bea before Luke can run off with Obi Wan. Or something.

  • Glad to hear that looking through some old ideas kicked your writer brain into gear. I did something similar this weekend–I read through the earlier version of my WIP, which has been stalled for quite some time. For the first time ever, I didn’t just see the problems with what I wrote, I also saw some interesting characters and some intriguing plot points that might/could/would come together with work. More importantly, I saw glimpses of the fun I had writing it and remembered the story I wanted to tell.

    I spent most of Sunday writing, and woke up this morning ready to get started again.

  • […] Misty Massey, A.J. Hartley, C.E. Murphy, and Kalayna Price, among others. The post is called “On Creativity and Writing: Making the Most of Ideas, part VI — Treasures In the Attic,” and it’s about finding inspiration in some of our own long-ignored work. I hope you enjoy it. […]

  • […] Misty Massey, A.J. Hartley, C.E. Murphy, and Kalayna Price, among others. The post is called “On Creativity and Writing: Making the Most of Ideas, part VI — Treasures In the Attic,” and it’s about finding inspiration in some of our own long-ignored work. I hope you enjoy it. […]

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Yay for re-discovering the spark! I’ve also been having a hard time settling down for writing lately, and then a friend sent along a manuscript draft for me to take a look at. I avoided that too, but when I finally started going over it it was fabulous for simply putting my brain back into writing mode and reminding me that I *like* my brain in that mode. So, great good luck with your treasures! Have fun!

  • Daniel, yes, I certainly had a couple of “what was I thinking” moments reading these manuscripts. But overall, I liked them. And the overall is what matters.

    It was wonderful seeing you, Mindy. Looking forward to catching up again soon.

    Emily, it really is a great con. I know just what you mean about avoiding the work at times, particularly when a difficult scene looms. Best of luck getting back to it.

    Sisi, thanks. I love that feeling of waking up in the morning eager to get to work. Enjoy this new-found energy with your WIP!

    Hep, thank you. That really is what reading the manuscripts did for me. “Writing mode.” Yes, that’s exactly it.

  • I’ve recently done this with the novel I’m writing for NaNoWriMo; pulled out an old idea, dusted it off and tried again. This time, I hope some new plot twists will give it the flair it needs to make it. Thanks for the post!

  • Okay, that is an absolutely killer opening, and now I am dying to read about Corinne!

    I’m going to stand up with you…due to family issues and that old black dog rearing its head, I haven’t written as much as I ought lately. Yet I know I’ve recently told at least three new writers that all it takes is BIC. So I’m going to attempt to take my own advice and get things moving along better.

  • Best of luck with it, Unicorn. I hope that NaNo is going well for you.

    Thank you, Misty. I really need to do something with her; she’s a great character. And best of luck with the BIC. I’ll do it if you will!

  • David – Yeah, those “what was I thinking” times… It’s amazing to look back on something you only wrote even two years ago and find things that are wrong that you’ve improved upon in your current writing. It’s both nerve-wracking and cool at the same time to see yourself grow as a writer even in a short period. And indeed, the overall is what matters, which is why I’ll be birthing a brand new baby short story soon. 😉

  • Oh, and I too want to know more about Corinne now. “Next time…” I’m itching to see how she gets out of it. WRITE IT! WRITE IT! 😀

  • David. I totally totaly totally understand. I am glad you found some mojo! Hugs.

  • The first half of this post is probabl one of the major themes of my personal blog: about how BICHOK is a great mantra, for all that, but sometimes in life you just don’t have a chair to sit in and a keyboard to write with. I beat myself up enough on all sorts of aspects of my life. For mental health purposes, I can’t afford to beat myself up because I’m chronically incapable of capturing more time for the purposes of writing, or overcoming the various hurdles and life obstacles that make finding time to write difficult. I want to write, and when I’m able I do.

    The second half is something I’ve done myself occassionally, made possible in part by trying to keep a record of various ideas I have in my idea notebook. Currently I don’t spend a lot of time digging through that because I already have a major writing project on the plate. Whenever that wraps up, I’m sure to start perusing my old notes.

  • That sounded like an awseome opening there, David. I am a big fan of the quirky openings that spark the mind.

    As for your aticle, that is how I feel as well. AS much as I want to BIC, sometimes life gets in the way. I just wish I could club life in the head and get it out of the way for a few hours each day. *smile*

  • quillet

    I am joining the chorus: such an awesome beginning deserves more, please, more!

    And as for cool techniques to channel emotional energy into artistic output…if you ~do~ learn any, you’ll tell us, right? 😉

  • *hugs* David! I understand completely. You are not alone in feeling this way. Health issues that will remain a constant threat/reality no matter what, family deaths, drama (oh the drama). There are times when I just want to curl up in a ball and cry. I feel like I can’t get anything done, or write anything. But that is a great idea, going through old stuff. I’ve done it every so often, and it really does help spark the creativity. My big trunked project earned a glance a few months back, and I was able to refine more about the universe. Not ready to go back too it, but some worldbuilding gave me confidence that I can one day. Hope things get better for you soon! 🙂

  • Thanks, Daniel.

    Faith, we’ll see if it turns into full-blown mojo, but thank you.

    Stephen, right, beating ourselves up when life gets in the way can be counterproductive. And I hope you find some gold in those old notes!

    Mark, thank you. Clubbing life in the head. Yes, I could go for that.

    Quillet, thanks. I will write it at some point. And if I find those techniques, I’m going to bottle them, sell them for a mint, and retire to a sunny island somewhere!

    Laura, thank you for the kind thoughts. The fact is, there are people on Magical Words who are dealing with stuff that is far, far more difficult than anything that I’m facing. It’s mostly distractions and silly stuff. I’m fine. But I’m grateful to you for the kind thoughts.

  • Here’s to finding the spark again… and especially to finding it right in front of you in something you’d already begun!

    Talking about BiC, I know for myself that sometimes I’m on intake-mode, and sometimes I’m on output-mode (which, trust me, is far better than “outtake” mode). I think both are necessary. So while we can make a good practice of consistency in our writing, I don’t think any of us can completely avoid the… stuff. You know. Life.

    Which is why WFC is such a fantastic weekend… the chance to recharge and reconnect.

    Great to catch up with you there, David. Even if I did spill your Guinness.

  • Great seeing you, too, Tim. And also great to see Matt. And yes, WFC is a great con for getting me re-energized.