On Writing, & Not

I’ve fallen prey to the thing I caution others against constantly in writing: I keep thinking, “Huh. That’s a great idea. I’ll write about that later.”

Then the proverbial “later” never comes.

Instead, untethered, unrecorded, the idea dissipates, never to occur to me again.

Experts estimate we think some 60,000 thoughts per day. We’re constantly thinking. We think about thinking, we even think about thinking less. Hell, we medicate ourselves so we can think less.

We think about groceries and bills and sex and hairstyles and smells and sounds and feelings and flashes.

As the old Latin saying goes, “I think therefore I am.”

60,000 thoughts a day!

You know the difference between writers and other people?

Every now and then, one of those thoughts goes off like a bomb, and a writer — a real writer — absolutely has to write their thoughts on that idea. Just get ‘er down, out, and string those words together like a lifeline to the cerebral side.

Real writers know that inspiration is fleeting and it’s not always possible to ride the lightning. But they also know that ideas, topics, themes are everywhere all around us. Whether we choose to record our gut-instinct reaction to them is generally the dividing line between who succeeds and who fails when they write.

This is why a real writer is forever making notes. Notes, notes, notes.

Not making those notes, it’s like that lifeline snaps and a writer floats adrift, no destination shore in sight.

And Then I Stopped

I used to be the note-making type. This digital shit, no. I just can’t do it. I fucking love my iPhone but writing ideas I plug into it might as well get flushed down the toilet. I never look at ‘em, never make ‘em come to life. Something about the very, very linear data-based method of note-making is a big stinking fail for me. I gotta do it on paper with a pen.

Last fall through to now, I’ve been deep in the “moving, changing, adapting” to life phase. I was finding out where I didn’t want to be, where I needed to go, and who I wasn’t. Sure, I’ve had thoughts in between, but they seldom made it to the page. And I have had way bigger priorities, and I’d given myself permission to just walk away from my craft for a while. I just didn’t think four months would pass and I’d still feel the same.

I recently heard about some creative type of great acclaim, but whose name escapes me, who was said to have walked away from his craft to “lead a more interesting life.” A more interesting life.

Because creating isn’t interesting. It’s isolated. It’s solitary.

Whether writing, painting, architectural designing — it’s almost all done alone. I can’t write with you in my room. I can’t write when I’m cooking dinner. I can’t go out for drinks and still get the writing done. I need my desk clear, no time constraints. I need money to be not stressing me out. I need to feel comfortable sitting for a few hours.

And then, the writing itself, for me, requires I have time alone with my thoughts too. I need the solitary times in my life. I’m an introvert. I’m outgoing, but an introvert.

But if I don’t have external experiences — be it cycling along the water, enjoying great food with great company, watching a movie, scouring the city, spending a day doing photography — I also can’t create.

I don’t remember when or where I made the promise to myself that I’d move here and just let myself figure out when/where/why to start writing, but it was certainly a conscious choice. I’d been swimming against the current in life for so long that the opportunity to just go with the flow after moving here for a no-commute lifestyle was something that I couldn’t resist.

I’m still doing it, too. But a part of me has become annoyed, lately, that many great ideas I’ve thought of have just vanished for me, because those ideas could fuel hundreds of hours of writing when the dark, dreary, rainy months descend come November — and when I want to be spending my months strolling the stormy seashores on mornings before writing till noon in slippers and pajamas. After all, that was part of my Move to Victoria Lifeplan.

So, today I’ve spend part of my Canada Day just cleaning. I’ve sorted my desk out, changed a couple things in the layout. Dusted.

And I found my Idea Box.

Writing Tools: My Idea Box

Idea Box, I love you. Welcome back to my life, you trusty thing, you.

I’m sure other writers have tools like these they employ, but let me tell you about my Idea Box and how I make it work for me.

It’s a recipe card box. You can get ‘em at any dollar store for under $5. Grab a stack of index/recipe cards that fit that box. I go for 3x5, because you don’t want to get too into anything at this stage, so limit the space. I like cards with lines on only one side, but do what you like. You can also pick out colours for the cards, if you write on frequent themes, say like a productivity writer could use pink cards for Organization, and blue cards for Time Management, so if he/she knows it’s one general subject they’d like to tackle, they can limit ideas to choose from via the card colour.

So, here’s the deal. I’ll write my idea in 5–12 words on the unlined side of the card, then on the back I’ll write a few points about why it’s interesting to me, or how I’d tackle it.

Then, I put it into the back of my Idea Box, with the short synopsis showing at the front.

When I need an idea, I go into the box, remove all the written cards, and quickly flip through looking at the front. When something makes me go “OH!” I’ll either start writing right then, or I’ll check the back of the card for more on the idea, and see if it’s something I feel like tackling.

Sometimes the back of the card’s what I save until I’m into writing about the idea and I hit a stumping point where I’m a bit blocked, then I might read it for a new perspective.

So.

I found my Idea Box. The ideas in it are so stupid my head hurts. I’d cleaned it out before my move and left a few weird ones in. I have now recycled all those cards. I’m starting fresh. It’s staying on the corner of my desk, never out of sight.

Like Catching Lightning

And that’s really, I find, the secret to writing. Listening to your ideas, and never letting them slip away unless it’s you throwing it away. Of all the ideas we have for our writing, most of them are shit. Half the time it’s about execution. And sometimes it’s just plain dumb luck.

Inspiration really is as fickle a bitch as she’s claimed to be. She comes, she goes. She’s not into marriage and she’s barely even a one-night stand. She’s only after quickies in a by-the-hour room.

When we amateur or on-the-side writers are lucky, we have that rare synchronicity of not only having a great idea, but having the time to tackle it, having the lack of distractions so we complete it, coupled with our creativity firing on all cylinders.

The rest of the time, we do what we do and sometimes it just works.

But the more we do it, the more those sometimes happen.

Me, I find it hard to go from a non-writing period like I’ve been living through for the last few months, into a writing heyday, but I’ll get there. In the meantime, I’m doing what life presents to me. Writing will come, because it’s as much a part of me as breathing. For me to have had such a long period of not wanting to be a writer is unusual, but I’m a believer in taking breaks when you need them, and being honest about when it’s time to get cracking again.

As a short-summered Canadian, that time is not yet nigh. Summer is a priority when you stay fishbelly-white 9–10 months a year, like yours truly.

I can only believe my writing will improve for giving myself the time to be who I need to be this year.

Here’s hoping I somehow find a balance as summer wears on.

FYI: There are some other reasons I’ve been holding back on writing, such as my increased site traffic, but those are for writing about on another day — the adversity of external pressures on creativity would be a poncey way of describing that one. I’ll revisit writing, breaking my block, and recharging my creative self frequently in the weeks and months to come, I suspect.

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One Comment

  1. Posted July 2, 2012 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    Some excellent advice here. Merci.

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