Displaying Story Ideas

So, I’m trying something new for organizing my writing ideas.

I don’t really have a centralized area where I write down my ideas for plots/characters/etc. Usually, they just end up in any notebook I have handy or any scrap of paper that just happens to be nearby. Sometimes, I’m careful to transfer these ideas to a central location, but most of the time they just float off somewhere, never to be seen again.

To remedy this, I’ve decided to collect some of these ideas in one place and, at the same time, give myself more of a visual reminder that, yes, I do get good ideas occasionally.

I’ve found some of the favorite ideas, written up a summary for each of them on sticky notes, and started covering my bedroom walls with them. There are three categories, each with their own separate section of wall: Place, People, and Plot.

Yes, a I am a fan of alliteration, why do you ask?

Under “Place”, I put setting ideas. Background stuff.¬†Anything from maps of magical kingdoms to a fictionalization of a museum I once went to. One of these days, I’m going to add creatures I’ve invented, and fun houses that I wished I lived in. ¬†This area will probably fill up pretty quickly when I start putting up my theories of magic. I spend more time than I like to admit coming up with rules for systems of magic (sociology, biology, conservation of energy, etc).

“People” is filled with characters that haven’t attached themselves to a plot. They are people with a distinctive trait, disability, or superpower that will require a certain style of story to accommodate. However, there are a couple of examples of people that are just interesting personalities that have asserted themselves when I’ve started writing. There is one guy, for example, that likes playing baseball. I don’t know his name, yet, or what story he is a part of, but I know what he sounds like and I know how he treats his younger sister.

“Plot” is filled up with log lines, basic “who” and “what” kind of stuff. I’m very careful to space the sticky notes out a bit, though, since I’ve added some smaller sticky notes below some of the main ones that start to detail the conflicts, characters, setting, or the origin of the idea. Ideally, each log line would branch out into a full tree of sticky notes that bring the story into greater detail with each layer added. In practice, I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I can dream.

After putting an afternoon to get this set up, it surprised me how many ideas (decent ones) I actually had. For the exercise, I had gone back through some of my old journals, and found some short fiction that I had forgot I even had. When I finished posting everything up, it was encouraging to be able to see a history of my creativity.

I have to remind myself: Yes, I am a writer. I do, actually, have ideas. I don’t have any excuse for why I shouldn’t be writing.

Mind you, this hasn’t encouraged me to write more, like I hoped it would. But, still, it’s gotten me thinking.

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“He’s the Investing Type”

So, some coworkers of mine said something interesting to me the other day.

They were discussing the fact that someone from their division was retiring. He was, they pointedly informed me, only in his mid-fifties. My reaction was something along the lines of “Okay, sure. My dad’s is fifty-some and he’s planning to retire in the next year or so. Your point?”

Their reply was that retiring now left him with maybe 30 years of life left, and that it was weird that he was retiring now. What was he going to do with those 30 years? But then, as if to excuse the odd behavior, another coworker mentioned that “he’s the investing type”.

Wait, what?

The conversation ended at that point, but I spent the rest of the day thinking about it. My coworkers had some very distinct ideas about the man’s retirement, and it kind of shook me that I not only didn’t agree with them, I’m not even sure if I really understood them.

For example, the 30 years comment? In retrospect it could be taken two ways.

The first, which is what I think they meant, is that 30 years is a long time to spend without a purpose of some kind of keep you busy. The most obvious purpose is, of course, a job, but it could just as well be volunteering, a hobby, or looking after grandkids. If this is how they meant the comment, then I really hope that they hadn’t actually thought too hard about what they were saying. For starters, the ‘standard’ retirement age is 65, only 10 years off. As far as I can tell, keeping yourself busy for 20 years vs 30 years shouldn’t be that much of difference. If you’ve found something that you enjoy (writing, for example) wouldn’t it be great to have an extra ten years free of work to devote to it?

Yes, I realize that retiring in your fifties throws off the idea that most of your life is spent working, as opposed to being in school or being retired (assuming you live until 85, and that you graduated at 22, retiring ten years early would mean you only worked for 39% of your life, as opposed to 51%). Still, I maintain that this shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Why would my coworkers even bother to comment about it?

The second way the comment could be taken, is that 30 years of retirement is a much harder thing to budget for than 20 years of retirement. The extra savings and compound interest during those ten years would be significant. If they meant it this way (and I really don’t think that they did) then the investing comment, at least, would make more sense.

But if they weren’t thinking about money when they made that comment, which I’m pretty sure of, then what on earth did they mean by “he’s the investing type”?

As far as I’m concerned (and almost all of the PF community would agree with me), there shouldn’t be a group of people that are the investing type, because that would imply that a lot of people just aren’t. I’m not talking about people how most people live paycheck to paycheck and don’t learn to save, I’m talking about the idea (that the statement seems to imply) that when it comes to investing, you either have something that makes you an investor, or you don’t.

This strikes me as a debilitating mindset. I know, for a fact, that the coworkers involved in the discussion contribute to the company’s (rather generous, actually) 401k plan. But they have to go out of their way to designate this one man as the investing type, as if he’s an anomaly or specially gifted or something. What does that mean for them, then? Are they doomed to being forever pushed around by financial advisers and the current DOW numbers?

Obviously, I’m being a bit over-dramatic, here, but the conversation frustrated me because I don’t think this is a healthy mindset. So what if someone decides to step out of the path of “retire at 65 and you’ll be fine because you contributed the minimum to your 401k needed to get the full employer match”? If they’ve crunched the numbers and decide they can retire at 55 (or, heaven forbid, 35), more power to them. It doesn’t mean that they have something magical, just that they prioritized differently, and wanted the extra years of retirement so that they could go windsurf in Puerto Rico.

I’ve put a lot of time and effort over the last three years (or so) into learning about personal finance. Over that time, I’ve been gathering the courage and resources necessary to decide my own future: how many luxuries I choose to own, how much money I set aside each year, and how long I need to work before I can retire. It’s tremendously empowering, to know that I can make an informed choice on those topics, now.

But my coworkers are seeing the results without seeing the effort and the process. So, all they can say is “he’s the investing type”, which is rather missing the point. We can all be “the investing type”, it’s just that you have to take the time and effort to make the important steps between high-yield savings account, and well-balanced portfolio.

Trust me, it’s worth it.