Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Flight of the Penguin

I'm a professional writer so one of the questions I get asked the most is "where do your ideas come from?" Usually I simply say: "I steal them from other people."

But the truth is I have no real idea at all.  Many years ago I remember hearing a very successful writer speak and he said he never has any ideas, he simply spends all his time preparing a runway for the ideas to land. At the time I thought he was just giving us a glib answer. However in my ten years as a paid writer I have come to believe him. I say "paid" writer not to show off or let you all know that I get paid to do this but to remind you (as I do to myself daily) that the roof over my head and food in my belly is reliant on the words I produce. 

No words - no beer and biscuits. 

Some days I panic what if I'm not good at this? What if I wake up and I can't write anymore? What if they all discover what a fraud I am? I have no idea where the ideas come from. How can I find more when I don't know where to look? However most days I just get over myself and get on with the job at hand - telling a good story and telling it well. 

Then recently I had a huge crisis of faith. I was so utterly and completely cut down by one persons comments that I was literally unable to work. In fact I hated facing the blank page. Despised it. The joy was gone. Why write when the work I produce is so under-valued by others? That all the months of effort I put in are seen to be such an utterly worthless contribution to the process of making a film? All it took was one person to cut me down so cruelly and that was it, I couldn't get up again. 

If the world doesn't want me to write I won't. And I didn't. 

But then something happened that reminded about the landing strip of ideas. 

Now bare with me here...

It started with a visit to buy hubcaps. My runabout car (not the Kingswood) is missing a hubcap on the front and the back hubcap is stuffed so I thought a new set would be in order. 

There's this place around the corner from me that has always intrigued me. It's a crazy old run-down oil-stained shop with piles and piles of hubcaps and chrome in the window. Second-hand hubcaps. Now I had and excuse to visit the shop and see what it's like inside. 

As it happens it was run by a delightful old guy in oily blue overalls with a permanently bemused expression on his face. The place was utterly deserted, there were no lights on, half an engine was lying on the floor as I entered and a car seat was blocking the "press for service" button. 

The old guy took ages to emerge from the dark hallway at the back of the shop and when he did it seemed that I had totally inconvenienced him by turning up as a paying customer. Anyway after our transaction was finished I left the shop and walked past the shop next door. 

And this little fellow caught my eye. A strange bird with a label around his neck saying "HI" MY NAME IS NEIL!

The shop was a furniture shop selling second-hand restored wooden furniture and nicknacks. I went inside and there was a bloke staining a set of drawers in the main entrance area. 

He looked at me and said, "What were you doing next door?" 

"Buying hubcaps", I replied. 

Given that was all the hub cap shop seemed to sell I would've thought the Stainer could've figured that out himself. He just nodded and went back to his drawers - I was another inconvenient paying customer it seemed. 

"What can you tell me about the bird in the window?"  

Without looking up the Stainer said:   

"I can tell you his name is Neil."

He offered me no further information. And do you know what? That was good enough for me. The little guy was a reasonable price so money changed hands and Neil rode in my passenger seat home. It wasn't until much later that night I realised that the old guy in the oil-soaked shop next door was called "Neil" as well. 

So Neil the penguin is now sitting on my bench top at home. Looking at me. I don't know what it is about him but he intrigues me. There's an idea for a story here but I'm just not sure what that story is. But what I do know is that the landing lights are on so my seatbelt is secure, my tray table is folded away and my seat is in the upright position. Prepare for landing.  


  1. What a cool post. You totally brought me into the moment. I don't think you have to worry if you are good enough.

    It is very hard not to seek the validation of others when you create something, be it art or writing or any other form of creative expression. We all SAY we don't care what people think but we do care. I know I need the feedback to keep me on track and motivated.

    For the first 6 months of my blog's life it was like being the only person in a ghost town. You can't know how much that first comment from a stranger meant to me. He didn't give me more than a sentence worth of praise but it was daily and enough to keep me going. I had the time then to develop a style that worked for me. A style that showcased the way that I see the world. I hope I never get tired of the daily search for interesting things to write about. After two years and 6000+ posts I can look back and be proud of the achievement.

  2. You're my blog idol Kal so praise from you means a lot. I'm very quietly chuffed that you liked this one and it connected. Good words here too. Thanks man. Heaps.