I was reading along and came upon that phrase again: “Do not be afraid to sometimes think outside the box.”
It reminded me I was going to write a book called There Is No Box, once upon a time. Because the whole idea of thinking outside the box is to push out the sides of an imaginary box and wait a minute it’s imaginary isn’t it? Ipso facto ergo e pluribus unum, There Is No Box.
I started collecting blog posts along those lines and started shuffling and reshuffling, and by the time I was done, I had a book called A Bridge At Crossroads. You should read it, it turned out pretty nicely, even if it’s not There Is No Box.
I had the idea for another book called How to Play A Blue Guitar, which would be another collection of blog posts that flow together to create a sort of manifesto about peace, understanding, self-reliance, dependence and independence, and living free. One day I sat down to read what I had so far, and I discovered it was done, so I published it that day. No regrets so far.
At some point you have to recognize that as much as you want to plan and outline and micromanage how your creative work turns out, at some point it takes on a life of its own.
When I first started blogging, I found myself returning over and over again to a theme of facing down the everyday fears that we all face, not to mention the manufactured fears that some folks throw at us to pry some loose change or basic freedoms away. I wrote it enough times to assemble a book, Refuse to be Afraid.
Not long after that book came out and I was looking for the next project, I was singing a song I’d written and mispronounced a phrase. I meant to sing, “a stream of consciousness,” but I actually sang, “a scream of consciousness,” and I had a metaphor to build a book around.
My first completed novel, The Imaginary Bomb, started out as a story about two friends who get caught up in an interstellar kerfuffle. In Chapter 5 they walk into a bar and met a big guy who almost starts a fight over something they said to a bartender that he takes wrong. The three of them walk out of a bar as friends, and the third guy, who I never imagined when I started writing the book, turns out to be the most pivotal character.
My second completed novel, The Imaginary Revolution, is yet another series of blog posts. It took me years to start writing the book, so one day I just started writing in the middle of the story, then I wrote something near the end, and then several beginnings, and all over the place. I finally finished the novel by piecing the whole thing together like a jigsaw puzzle.
And then there’s Myke Phoenix. I wanted to do a superhero series that was monthly novelettes — about 10,000 words each — and I wrote four of them around 1990. I published them in 2008 and resolved to start doing a story a month, but I couldn’t think of a story to save my soul. I even tried republishing them on a monthly schedule, figuring by the fifth month I’d have some momentum and ideas for further adventures. Nothing.
Then in 2013, after five years of hemming and hawing, I got the insane idea to write a Myke Phoenix story based on the movie M, which is about a serial child killer, except Myke’s villain would walk up to random women and kiss them. Song of the Serial Kisser was the first of 12 monthly novelettes that I wrote and published in 2014, and it even got featured on Wattpad.
The Myke stories are the closest I’ve ever gotten to producing a book the way I intended. More than half of my books so far have come out of nowhere, and the others refused to stay in the box I built for them. Oh, that’s right: There is no box.
What I’m trying to show you, creative types, is that ideas are all around you and it’s important not to try stuffing them into a box and forcing them to turn out the way you insist. Sometimes — no, most of the time — the work has a better idea.