Collecting as Fertilizer
I'm working on a workshop called Writing Abundance that I'll be presenting in September at the Path and Pen conference in Nashville. It's also going to be an E-book, for sale on this very site.
Conveniently enough, all the elements of writing abundance fall into categories that all start with C. How cool is that? It reminds me of the Portland nurseryman who had seven children and named them all with names that started with the letter D. Then he named the nursery after his kids–7 Dees Nursery. The ad in the phone book had photos of every single one of them. My sister and I thought that was hysterical and we were damn glad our photo didn't appear in the phone book. Though come to think of it, we were both named names that start with C–Christine and Charlotte. When I was in college, I actually met one of the 7 Dees at a bar and we ended up at the Rose Test Gardens and I believe he picked one of the roses for me. He owns the nursery now and its even bigger and more successful than when his father owned it, and I'm sure he'd be very unhappy with me telling how he picked a rose from a public garden. (Actually, I just read the story of the nursery on the website, and he doesn't own the nursery now, but his brothers do.)
Anyway, the writing abundance Cs are two qualities and four activities, kind of like the game Two Truths and a Lie, but that is yet another story. The two qualities are commitment and consistency, both of which you gotta have to be a writer. And the four activities are clearing, connecting, collecting, and creating–the point of it all.
But today I'm writing about collecting, as in gathering ideas and input and snippets of this and that as you go through you daily life. I always recommend that people who want to write keep a journal, and into this journal should not only go daily reflections but ideas and bits of dialogue you've overheard, a nice description that popped into your head and so on.
As you write more and more, all of these things will become more intuitive and you won't need to be quite so rabid about writing them down, because instead they'll go directly from your brain to whatever story or article or essay you are working on. But that takes awhile, like years, so I don't advise messing with it. If you have an idea, write it down.
At first this may seem like overkill. But ideas need coddling and tending, and if you do that, they'll multiple in this magical way that I don't understand. As I've mentioned before, energy breeds energy and ideas breed more ideas.
Collecting is the cure for the fear of the blank page. So many of us open a notebook or turn on the computer and then gasp in shock when we actually have to write something on said blank page. But if you've been collecting ideas, then you can turn to your journal, read that great description you jotted down, and use it as the basis of a scene.
Years ago, in another life, I used to design and sew children's clothes. These days, the writing gods have demanded full fealty so I don't do that anymore, but I still like to fancy that I could design something to knit or stitch should the mood strike. But the mood has struck, and I open a sketchbook and I don't have the least clue what I might want to design. Why? Because I've not been open and receptive to ideas. I've not been collecting.
I've recently heard two fiber artists speak. Kaffe Fassett (thumbs down–love his work, but he spoke at a graduation, and just metpahorically phoned in a slide show and self-congratulatory speech) and Fiona Ellis (thumbs up, a lovely, gracious, and funny designer) and both of them talked about where they get their inspiration. They gather and collect it, from nature, from museums, from urbanscapes. But they actively go out and look for pattern, for color, for design. Which is what we writers need to be doing, only we're looking for character, for dialogue, for location, for the telling detail.