It was a Friday night. I had just worked for almost 12 hours straight, because sometimes in online publishing that’s just what you do to set up for a weekend. I was exhausted. Self-care was my new “thing,” it being a new year. Taking care of myself had to be a priority. It just HAD to be.
My plan was specific almost to the minute (because even in relaxation, I have to make some plans — I am who I am and I am not ashamed). Shower. Practice violin. Cuddle underneath a blanket next to my puppy and read a book, or watch YouTube videos — whichever my brain could handle by that time.
I made it as far as halfway through the shower before everything fell apart.
All because of yet another unsolicited story idea.
Here’s the thing about showers: They are some of the most dangerous places for creators to relax. And I’m not talking about physically dangerous, though I suppose slipping and falling is always a risk for anyone seeking cleanliness while standing up.
No, I’m talking about the mental and emotional dangers of trapping yourself in a small enclosed space with nothing to do with your brain but let it run wild.
What often happens is the one thing you always WANT to happen, but never in the middle of applying your usual quarter-sized dose of vanilla-scented shampoo: A new story idea appears.
A new story idea, the kind that approaches without warning only when you are mentally trapped with no way to fend it off, as so many do. These ideas are ruthless. They have no concept of personal space. They come, they come closer, and then they aren’t just here, they are a part of you, consuming your mind, convincing you that if you do not give them a physical entity to cling to, they will destroy you and everything you love.
So there I was, just minding my own business trying to relax and breathe and enjoy my Friday night free of the pull to creation, and BOOM. It hit me right then and there.
What if I wrote a story about [insert story idea that I won’t share yet on this blog here]? How would that work?”
And with that single thought, the story just started writing itself. All inside my head. I could hear the characters’ voices as the dialogue came to me, see them interacting, picture the scenery, feel the emotion.
It just kept going. Once it started, it wouldn’t stop. This new story was unraveling from its secluded cocoon and there was nothing I could do except keep repeating it over and over in my head until I finished my shower and could run to my laptop and write it all down before it disappeared.
I wrote for almost an hour. Suddenly, it was close to midnight. My time of rest and relaxation had vanished, replaced with the all too familiar urge to dump as many details of a new idea as possible onto a page to preserve it all.
Was I upset about this? Of course not — well, not really. I am never going to complain about a random strike of inspiration matched up perfectly with the motivation to actually put an idea into words. This is the life we live as writer, after all, whether we choose it or not. Stories cannot escape us, nor can we escape them.
So what do you do when you encounter an idea you don’t know what to do with — an idea you would rather not spend massive amounts of time with right now/? You give it what it wants: Someplace to call home. An outline. A few lines of a first draft. Even a note in an app or in a blank document.
And then you leave it alone.
I stand by my philosophy that the good ideas, if left to their own devices for some time, will grow and mature even when you aren’t tending to them regularly. The good ideas, the ones that are worth coming back to, will always be ready for you when you are ready to return. Even when you aren’t.
Over the next week or so, this new story will continue to write itself in my head, and from time to time I might jot down some lines of dialogue just to get it off my thought train. But I don’t think I will be sitting down to write this book anytime soon. It breaks my heart to say it, even more so knowing that I mean it. But there is just too much on my plate. There are too many stories that need my attention more right now.
If this is a good idea, it might fade from the front of my mind. My sense of urgency might disappear. I will think of it of it often, but rarely will I call upon it expecting an answer. But one day I will sit down and give it the time it deserves. And I sincerely hope the result is truly something beautiful.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.