Art is a delayed echo
Among the many ideas you would like to explore, there might be one in particular that just won’t go away, one that seems to be always in summoning distance. It pops into your daily routines into your daydreams. It is the kind of reverie that is worthy of further exploration.
When an idea becomes almost a constant in your mind, when you keep hearing its recurring echo, it is probably an idea whose time has come. So take it off the shelf of your POSSIBILITY BOUTIQUE immediately – lest you lose a valuable creative opportunity:
I lost an opportunity.
Couldn’t find it anywhere.
Looked inside my notebooks;
it had fled into the air.
Should always write my thoughts down
in case they lead to more.
Must never let an opportunity
slip through an open door.
Excerpt from “THE POSSIBILITY BOUTIQUE” (I TOUCHED A STAR IN MY DREAM LAST NIGHT)
Children’s writer Juanita Havill did not let a persistent idea flee into the air. She recognized its potential and developed it. In my recent interview of her, I asked about her selection process – just how does she choose one particular idea on which to focus from her repository of many ideas. (Juanita has been writing now for over thirty years. She has forty-three published books – picture books, early readers, middle grade novels, poetry and a novel in verse.)
Ellen: How do you identify from the many ideas you have, the one or ones you want to prioritize and explore?
Juanita: Children’s book author and writing instructor Jane Resh Thomas used to say, “Write what haunts you” – advice that I tend to follow. I don’t write down an idea the moment it pops into my mind. I wait. The nature of haunting is that the “haunt” will return. Haunting doesn’t have to be terrifying. The important characteristic for me is that it is persistent. It takes up residence in my mind, this ghost of an idea, with occasional fleeting appearances, each one allowing me to gather more information which I begin to write down in a notebook. By the time the ghost makes a direct appearance and shows no sign of vanishing, I am ready to go deeper and write the story.
The ghost may be called up by something I’ve read or seen, by a conversation, an argument, an accident, a dream, etc. When I first met the five-year-old daughter of a friend, a middle child, the girl told me about accidentally falling into Lake Michigan. She added, “I’m the accident-prone one.” Somewhere in that encounter, in her words was a story. Whatever haunted me in my childhood – I was accident-prone, middle child – informed the novel that I wrote for children, Leona in the Middle in the Water. (READ THE FULL INTERVIEW)
Many children (and their parents, families and educators) have read the stories and poems of Juanita Havill. Bringing those story ideas to fruition, required from Juanita, both a receptivity to those echoing ideas and then hard, hard work because no idea “will jump off a shelf and request your attention. No idea mounted on a white steed will leap through a window and exclaim: “Take me! I’m yours!” unless you are ready for it. (HAVE YOU EVER HAD A HUNCH? The Importance of Creative Thinking)