The observation journals at this point (late January) were a clear mixture of testing ideas for classes, testing the journal for my own purposes, and overthinking things in the margins.
Making a list of twenty things (problems, uses, solutions, etc) is a classic way to come up with ideas (my dad used to use it to entertain us on long car trips, and I posted an example in Werewolf Conferences and Colour Treatments where I was working on ideas for a book cover).
This is a variation: Choose a topic/idea/theme and come up one idea for each letter of the alphabet. It’s good for observation exercises, too (basically a self-directed I Spy, like using the spectrum: Observation exercises). However, for coming up with rough ideas, it’s a useful way to (a) force a wide range of associations and (b) take the pressure off any individual idea. It’s also suprisingly fast — a race to the end instead of a wrestling with possibilities.
However that was not the most interesting part of the exercise.
The unexpectedly useful bit was the patterns that emerged — pulling back and including another layer of reflection about the thoughts and reflections on the page:
- Looking at this many ideas at once, and where they came from, I can see the range of things that were floating in my mind that day (from Victo Ngai illustrations to bushfires).
- There was a distinct leaning (you can see the note in green at the top of the close-up below) towards the mythic-gothic or comic-Midsomer Murders. This is useful to know, whether to avoid it (the final story ended up being described by the editor as “a very strange piece”) or to better play to things that appeal to me.
- Although most of the ideas had some charm, I could feel a difference between the ones that were still just a situation/character/incident looking for a plot, and some that already had momentum or traction. I hadn’t quite identified what it was here, yet, but I began to explore that tipping point more on future pages.
There are a couple of other notes on what I noticed about the pages, too:
- How things got done that day (it was a headachy day).
- The usefulness of parameters.
- The fact that ruling up the pages in advance encourages ideas onto them (see also Narrative Theory #1).
- An appreciation for the variability of watercolour (using the pages to appreciate materials has been wonderful, both for getting better at using them and for enjoying them).
- And also the recurring appearance of this type of cart (below), which finally made its way into one of the monthly stories for patrons. (Making tiny objects is a great way to catch and store — or exorcise! — small fascinations).
- 26 ideas: Think of something you need to make/write. If nothing springs to mind, then imagine you have to write or illustrate a reimagining of a classic tale — “Little Red Riding Hood”, for example. As quickly as you can, come up with twenty-six ways you could rewrite/illustrate it, one for each letter. E.g. “A” suggests a red apple and a kinship to Snow White, and a blended retelling; or visiting an aunt instead of a grandmother — or Red Riding Hood herself is in fact the dashing outcast aunt of the family, visiting a repressed niece….
- Patterns: When you get to the end, look back over the list and notice any patterns. Were your ideas affected by particular podcasts or the sound of construction outside? Do they trend to psychological horror, or action-adventure? Which ones feel like they’ve got a spark to them — do you know why?
- Existing ideas: Or make a list of ten pieces of writing/art you’ve done (or love), and look for patterns between them (see also: When in doubt, make lists; and The Key to all Mythologies). Are there particular fascinations you’d like to keep, or enhance, or question?