My Head is a Nuclear Reactor

There are some exciting things happening at the Parking Lot Confessional! But…I can’t talk about them yet. So I’m just going to get on with this week’s topic, Thinking Spaces: Where we get our ideas.

I have a theory about how story ideas germinate. At least how I experience them. It goes like this.

My Head is a Nuclear Reactor

All day long my brain takes in information and filters it into different categories.

mushroom cloud

U.S. nuclear weapon test MIKE of Operation Ivy, 31 Oct 1952, photo courtesy of US Dept. of Energy, public domain

Some information is peripheral. Stuff that passes through my synapses with hardly a notice at all. Like, tying my shoes or turning on my turn signal when driving.

Some information is critical. It must be consumed and acted upon right now. Like, we are late for school! Or, my editor just sent last-minute changes and needs them back right away!

And some information is interesting. I notice it, and I linger on it, but I don’t have to take any immediate action on it. This information often arrives in the form of quirky news headlines, odd bits of stories caught in others’ conversations, snippets of songs on the radio in the school pick up line, a comment from someone standing behind me in line, an interaction I witness at the grocery store.

This information is the miracle stuff.

It sinks into my subconscious where it tumbles around with all the other bits of interesting information already consumed and filtered.

And then one day, my brain takes in a piece of interesting information, but instead of it just sinking quietly into my subconscious, it collides with another bit of interesting info. That collision causes a reaction.

An idea.

That idea bounces around, searching out other bits of information to collide with, which sparks more ideas. Connections between the ideas are made and compounded. The idea grows, gathering energy in its wake. At this point, it’s no longer easily dismissed, like peripheral information; it isn’t merely interesting; and it isn’t going to sink back into my subconscious without a fight. No, at this point, it becomes critical. It is active and present and must be addressed. If I don’t start writing it, my head will explode.

All of those interesting ideas in my subconscious are like neutrons sitting there, just waiting for a proton to come along and crash into them. And when they do, kablam! My head goes mushroom cloud.

Kind of like the demo Science Bob gave on Jimmy Kimmel:

Keeping the ideas coming is as simple (and wonderful) as taking in interesting information. Observing the world around me. Paying attention to what I see and hear. Reading. Taking in art. Watching interesting programs. Listening to other people’s observations of the world. Listening. Listening. Listening. Lots of listening.

The miracle stuff is all around you. It’s just a matter of making sure your reactor is prepped and ready for the boom.