Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What if a premise falls in my brain, and there's no one there to hear it?

A few nights ago, I took my standard running leap into bed (we have one of those old, four-posters…and, yes, I know there are stools for beds, but they look too much like church kneelers, which I find disturbing next to my bed. But that’s another story). Just as my cheek met the cool pillow, an idea charged through my sleepy stupor into my brain.

A brilliant idea. Brilliant, I tell you. Nothing less than brilliant. Enough to hip-shove The Hunger Games into Twilight. Enough to make Brad Pitt want my phone number to ask if he could play the male lead. Enough to tell Angelina she couldn’t bribe me for the female lead.

I can’t tell you the idea.

Why? Because I can’t remember what it is. Because I didn’t drag my brilliant butt out of bed to write it down. Because I didn’t lean over and risk a head injury to find the paper and pen I store in my nightstand to scribble the idea.

I should know better. Well, I do know better. As soon as I hear my brain whisper, “Oh, this one is so A-MAZING, you won’t forget it,” I need to make one of those Bella Swan Cullen new-vampire dashes to write it.  Unfortunately, unlike Stephenie Meyer, I do not wake up from a dream with a four-book series in my head.

So, where do my ideas originate?

In the most boring of circumstances.  Like one day, after retrieving mail from my mailbox, I wondered, “What if a woman went out to get her mail and never returned? Or what if she walked out in one year, but when she walked back into her house, twenty years had passed?” 

Those two words, “what if?” can launch me into writer orbit. But I have to be willing to turn ideas inside out and upside down. I have to muzzle the editor in my brain who says, “Go you…you’ve just thought of the dumbest premise in the known universe.”

Years and years ago, I attended a conference and delighted in listening to Georgia Heard talk about her recent book, For the Good of the Earth and Sun:Teaching Poetry. What I most remember is her talking about poetry constantly surrounding us, that it’s everywhere…from the worn steps outside your grandmother’s house to drinking coffee with a friend.

And while those may not be ideas that carry a novel into hundreds of pages, they’re a beginning. Even poems marinate in my brain. When I read “Patterns” by Amy Lowell or “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins, I just know a story is there waiting to happen.

If there is anything I can share, it’s this: whatever the idea, however ridiculous and goofy it may seem at the time, write it down. It’s a gift. 

Christa Allan is the author of Walking on Broken GlassThe Edge of Grace, and, her newest and first historical,  Love Finds You in New Orleans. You can find her at www.christaallan.comFacebook, and Twitter. When she's not frantically crashing into deadlines, waiting for the next and best premise, and praying for June, she teaches high school English. Christa and her husband recently moved to New Orleans to live in a home older than their combined ages. Their three neurotic cats are adjusting.


  1. Oh, Christa! I've had the exact same experience as I drift off to sleep--greatest story ever! I swear to myself I will remember every single detail in the morning--wake up--nothing.

    I now sleep with a pen and paper beside my bed. I can't guarantee that I always reach for it (I am just that lazy when I am nearly asleep) but at least it is there!


  2. So what if we sleep with some kind of voice activated recorder? Maybe we're telling ourselves wonderful stories every night?!

  3. And believe it or not, I had a fabulous Girlfriends blog idea all plotted out as I drifted off--gone, baby, gone....

  4. I do! I keep my phone by my bed for an alarm so I can snatch it up and jot down a quick memo if need be. These days I find I need to jot down so much more than I used to. The mind is no longer a steel trap, more like mesh.

  5. I hear you on the forgetting...great post!

  6. Thanks for the responses. Reassuring to know I'm in great company!

  7. Arlo Guthrie once said: "Song-writing's just kinda like catching fish--you sit there and pull them out as they go by--though I think Bob Dylan's up stream from me somewhere."

  8. Everybody's upstream from me, I'm afraid. Good post, Christa. You're in good company, obviously. I'd have to keep a pad and pen on either side of me, since even in the 2 seconds it would take to roll over and reach, the brilliant idea would slip right away. Gone again--skip to my lou.

  9. Love this post! I never write it down, either!! My husband actually bought me a dictaphone so that I can now capture all of my (seemingly) brilliant thoughts!!

  10. Such reassuring comments! Dictaphone...what a great idea. Could I permanently attach it to myself?