Writer’s write. And in this day and age, writers blog.
When I found out my first novel, “Rings of Passage,” would be e-published by Lazy Day (lazydaypub.com) on Aug. 22, I realized there’s no getting around it. I’d have to start a blog, and soon.
At that moment, a rush of blog topic ideas flooded into my head. My mind’s eye read the story leads; my mind’s ear heard the phrasing of the sentences. There were a dozen blog topics on my idea tree, low hanging fruit, waiting for me to pick them and put them in a blog pie.
But first… I had to clean the kitchen.
There were chores, errands, maintenance, my crises, other people’s crises and, you know, a day job… that all had priority. So I didn’t write a single one of those ideas down. I never even made a mental note.
Now the time to write is here. I’m staring at the blank screen. The errands are done, the crises solved, the kitchen cleaned. But those wonderful, ripe ideas? The low hanging fruit that was so appetizing a week ago? All of it is lying on the ground beneath the tree, rotting. I can’t even tell what kind of fruit it was.
How I wished I’d written one of them down.
There’s no rhyme or reason as to why ideas dump themselves on you all at once, at the most inconvenient moments, when you’re near neither pen and paper, nor computer keyboard. What’s the deal? You’re driving. Or in the shower. Or it’s in the middle of the night, and you’ve dreamed it.
In those situations, there’s only one thing to do: you have to remember it. If the idea really reaches out and grabs you, you will. The Old English epic poem of Beowulf – all 3182 lines of it – was passed by oral tradition through the centuries by traveling poets who kept the whole thing in their brains. Okay, I’ll admit modern-day minds aren’t trained for that. If you can look it up in Wikipedia, why memorize it, right?
Sometimes we still need to do some mental shorthand.
Back in ancient Greek and Roman times, people didn’t have computers. Sometimes they didn’t even have papyrus. They used the method of loci, also called the Roman Room technique, in which they put the details of what they wanted to remember within the rooms of a building they knew well. To recall it later, they would mentally walk through the rooms and retrieve the memory. It’s where phrases such as “in the first place,” originated.
My method isn’t nearly as elaborate. To use a simple example, a grocery list, I will memorize the fact that there are five things on the list. Then beside each of the numbers in my head, I list the item I have to buy. So when I get to the store, and I only have four items in the cart, I have something to associate it with. “Wait, what was #5? It was right under #4, Chef Boyardee Pizza Kit.” (Yes, really.) “So it must have been, um, mozzarella cheese?”
When it comes to remembering an “idea,” though… now that’s tricky. Say I’ve had a dream that sparks a great idea for a story. And it’s in the middle of the night, and I’m going to be unconscious again in, like, 30 seconds. I have to grab onto the one magical thing that has me believing it would be a great tale (at least to my addled, half-asleep brain) and make a mental note, lickety-split, and then…
Because I’ve made that effort, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll remember it. There’s also a 90/10 chance that the idea is crap. For some reason, great ideas in dreams don’t turn out to be so wonderful in the harsh light of day.
Occasionally they do. And for that reason, it’s worth the effort.
Sometimes, you don’t even have to make a mental note. Every once in a while, the universe lays it all out before you, fully formed. The idea is so freakin’ unbelievably, amazingly great, that it haunts you. It tracks you down, day after day, year after year, and sticks pins in your brain. You couldn’t forget it if you wanted to. Your job is write it down.
Lately, I’ve been re-reading Stephen King’s insightful, “On Writing,” and he describes the experience:
“Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”
So what was I was going to blog about again?