Thursday, December 29, 2011

To Write Them Down or Not to Write Them Down

At a writing conference (well, a symposium, actually) about three years ago, I heard someone on a panel talk about ideas. Sadly, I cannot remember who it was. Someone in the audience raised their hand and asked if this author kept a notebook of all his great ideas. The man said he didn't write down any of his ideas. He figured if it was a good idea, it'd stick around. If it didn't stay with him long enough to use it, then it wasn't an idea worth using in the first place. I found his answer completely fascinating. What a great way to weed out the bad ideas, and to discover what the really great ideas are!

Yeah. It took me a couple of years to realize that, fabulous concept or not, it's just not how I work.

Writing is a lot of problem solving. A million little problems present themselves in every manuscript, and your job as a writer is to find the best way to solve them. Some are huge enough that they affect the direction the entire plot is headed. Others are small and only affect a single scene. All of them have to be solved, and chances are you have a dozen of these little issues bouncing around your head at any given time, hoping for their chance to be solved.

Sometimes I'll be sitting in the car, waiting for my daughter's art class to end, and I'll figure out the perfect solution to one of the things bouncing around in my head. The solution that makes everything right. That missing puzzle piece. And then she'll hop in the car and we'll start chatting art, and the idea slowly slips away while I'm not looking until later that night when I think, "Now what was that perfect solution again?"

Does that mean it was a bad idea? No. It means I was forgetful and easily distracted and darn it, by now I should know better than to turn my attention away from it before it's either inked forever in my brain or inked forever on paper! Because for me, the really good ideas like to wander down those brain hallways that rarely get used, then they tend to get lost.

So what about you? Do you know when something is a really good idea because it tends to stick, or do you have to write good ideas down if you want to keep them?

28 comments:

Suzie F. said...

Great post! Happy New Year to you, Peggy!

I suffer from a condition I call "sieve brain." No matter how wonderful the idea, fascinating a person is when introducing herself, excited I am about an event...if I don't write it down, it vanishes into thin air. In my opinion, that's why mini purse-sized notebooks were invented.

mooderino said...

I definitely have to write it down or it's lost forever.

mood
Moody Writing

Hannah Hounshell said...

I have to write down my solutions when they hit me too, or I won't remember it when I need it.

Ideas for new stories, on the other hand, tend to pester me until I at least note them own. Not sure why it works that way, but at least I always have a pen and notebook handy :D

Tara Tyler said...

exactly. that guy probably doesnt have to sit and wait on any kids. he can remember more when it's his job, right?

but me, i think all our ideas can be great. depends on what we do with them... i decide the greatness when i start writing the story, some of them go no where for me. but thats ok =)

Cindy said...

I don't see anything wrong with writing down an idea, even if the idea may seem not seem that great at the beginning because sometimes one idea leads to another and another until you have a something great.

But on the other hand I often dismiss a lot of my ideas as too simple. :)

Cherie Reich said...

I've heard something similar too at a conference with an author, but I can't remember who said it either.

I typically don't write down ideas. I let them come and see if they stick in time. It's only when I get close to the writing stage of a certain idea that I take notes.

Delia said...

Stephen King says the exact same thing in his book On Writing. Like you, I find that nugget of advice useless. I'd like to blame my forgetfulness on the kids, but really I'm just forgetful. I take notes.

Sara B. Larson said...

That might work for him because he doesn't have what I call "Mommy Brain." The more kids I have, the more forgetful I become. And that DEFINITELY doesn't mean the things I forget aren't important. I forget dr's appts, bills to be paid, Christmas presents that I hid under my bed, you get the idea. So when I get a writing idea, I'd better write it down or it'll be gone before I blink and it's gone. Now, if I could only find the paper I wrote it on...

Michael Offutt, Supra-Genius said...

Get yourself a smart phone and then you can record your ideas by just pressing the application. That's how I do it on my iPhone. Then you can play the message later.

J. A. Bennett said...

I don't like to write my ideas down. Somehow if I don't let them mull over in my mind before I take action they just look dumb and I crumple the paper and throw it away. I like to get a feel for character before I write a single word. Funny how we all work a little differently :)

Janeal said...

I hate that! It happens to me all the time! I've started texting a few words to my email to remind me.

S.P. Bowers said...

I have to write them down too. If it's not a good idea when I look back at it I'll think "Meh" and turn the page.

Jaime Morrow said...

My sister and I were just having a discussion about this very thing yesterday. We both completely agree with you on this. I'm the kind of person who has lists for my lists because I will forget to do stuff. Important stuff. I would forget the good ideas as well as the not-so-good ideas for my writing so I write it ALL down.

Kelley said...

Super awesome post. I HAVE to write everything down. I'm so forgetful when it comes to "life-changing brilliant ideas" lol :) Happy holidays!

Carrie Butler said...

I have to write everything down. Otherwise, I'll see something shiny and... what was I talking about?

I hope all is well! :)

prerna pickett said...

I have to have a notebook to jot down my ideas. Yeah, a few of them may suck, but it's hard to keep track of all of them, especially with little ones taking up most of my day.

Lan said...

I write everything down. EVERYTHING. I don't have kids to distract me but the slightest thing will set me off and then I'll completely forget what I've come up with. I think the advice is good if that's how you work anyway but for us list makers, it's not how we roll!

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I write things down when the really good ideas hit - whether I'm texting it to myself, using my evernote app, I've even called myself and left a voice message. I have to because of the previously mentioned mommy-brain :)

Amanda Olivieri said...

If it's a general idea I usually remember it, but if it's a specific scene or dialogue or something smaller and more detailed, then I always try to write it down so I don't forget. I have notebooks for this purpose specifically :)

BECKY said...

I MUST write at least a few key words, or it will be gone forever. That's why I have little note-pads and pens EVERYWHERE! In my car, on my nightstand, on the bathroom vanities, in living room table drawers, etc! I've heard of waterproof ones for the shower, but I've not seen one! :)

The Golden Eagle said...

If I stop for a moment and really think about the idea for half a minute it will stick, but otherwise I usually have to write it down.

Love the picture of the notebook. :)

Donna K. Weaver said...

The only problem with not writing it down is when you get older. Then you forget everything, even the good stuff. lol

Cortney Pearson said...

I HAVE to write them down or they don't stick at all. So I always write thoughts/ideas down and then if I read them later and realize they don't work, I just don't use them. :)

JeffO said...

This is definitely one of those cases of 'everybody's different'. If the idea comes to me when I can really think it over - in the shower, driving (mostly - sometimes, you can't think too hard while driving), washing dishes, etc. - I have the chance to play with it, turn it over in my mind a bit, and then it sort of 'sets', like epoxy or concrete or something. In those cases, I can usually hold on to it. There are other thoughts and ideas that just feel like they *need* to be written down, like I'll never be able to hang onto them unless I get it on paper. I don't know why that is.

Maria Zannini said...

I laughed when I read that quote because while I do have a gut feeling when an idea is good, I can't ever remember it.

I have a memory like a sieve. Fortunately, jotting down a couple of notes is all it takes to remind me. You're right that writing is problem solving. The process of sitting down and writing those few fleeting thoughts helps solidify it further than if I just relied on memory.

Sarah B said...

I may be forgetful but I definitely agree that if I remember it later, it must be an amazing idea. :)

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

I'm with you, Peggy. If I don't write it down it's liable to be gone regardless of how genius it was. And then I waste precious time trying to remember! :)

Peggy Eddleman said...

Sigh. I just commented on everyone's comments... long ones, too! Then I clicked Publish Your Comment and clicked on the X.... right as I noticed it said that my comment was too long, and wasn't saved. But it was too late, and I lost everything! Peggy fail.