A fortune cookie once told me: A short pencil is more enduring than a long memory.
I don’t know about you, but that little slip of paper knew how my brain works. Yeah, my memory has the half-life of a gnat. “Brilliant” ideas appear at the most inopportune times and fade away before I can tack them down.
Yeah, I’m one of those writers where solutions to plot/character problems or snappy bits of dialog popped to the surface of my brain…after I shut down my computer. We won’t even talk about my eyes popping open — when I’m just about asleep – with a solution to my latest plot problem.
My solution? Sticky notes: yellow [or other colors] and a struggle with discipline.
The habit started back when I used to write non-fiction at night–after the kids were out of my hair. I had a little notebook I kept in the kitchen where I wrote ideas down so I wouldn’t forget them before I could write again.
Now, the kids are gone, and I write fiction instead of articles. Still, I use sticky notes. I’ve even gotten efficient at using them…or at least, I try. Here are Kay’s simple little crutches for saving her ideas before they disappear into the umbra.
1) You need to have writing materials close at hand. [Or, maybe a smart phone if you’re technologically proficient.]
A pad of sticky notes and a pen/pencil must be available when an idea is most likely to hit you. The pad by the washbasin in the bathroom and by my chair were my no-brainers. But I also ended up with set-ups in the car and at the kitchen table…and then, made sure sticky notes were easily seen on the dining room table…
Result? I have a sticky note/pen set up wherever I spend a lot of time…even at my computer. Why? Because ideas related to other projects often pop into my head when working on another story.
2) You have to take the time to write them down…hopefully, in readable form. Even the most brilliant idea won’t do you any good if you forget it. In short, I take a pause to create a memory.
The exercise takes discipline, but the minute or so it takes me to jot down the direction I need to go in my manuscript is well worth it. Writing things down when I’m petting the cat is easy even though he tends to get annoyed. Tough. So far, I haven’t burnt anything on the stove, either, when I stopped to write something down.
Driving’s a little different, but I manage to recite my idea until I get to a safe place to jot it down. Sometimes I get strange looks. My lips must be moving fast and furious. But I’m not cursing fellow drivers, whatever they might think.
When written, the note usually gets shoved in my pocket until I deposit it by my computer.
3) Did you guess you need to transfer the notes to its manuscript?
Yeah, my computer tends to nest in a circle of yellow. Again, discipline is the key. I try to transfer my ideas at the top of its story chapter as soon as possible in different color ink or start a new file. When I go back and revise, or start a new chapter, I read through the notes before I start. Not only do I have ideas to prime my creative pumps, but I often find some gem of phrasing that I completely forgot.
The notes that belong to stories different from the manuscripts I have on my desktop? I usually clip them together with a clothespin so they stay together until I have time to place them in my inactive files.
All this doesn’t mean I still don’t work in the middle of piles of yellow squares. They just aren’t deeper than my computer’s tall. Most important, I don’t lose so many ideas. I may decide not to use the “brilliant” insight at the end, but I don’t forget them either.
Hooked by comic books at an early age, M. K. Theodoratus’ fascination with fantasy solidified when she discovered the Oz books by L. Frank Baum with his strong female characters. She has traveled through many fantasy worlds since then.
When she’s not reading about other writer’s worlds, she’s creating her own. Most of her tales are set in the land of Andor where magic and demons clash with ordinary humans caught in the middle. She also writes about the Far Isles Half-Elven where she explores the political effects of genetic drift on a mixed elf-human population.
Gargoyles, magic, ghosts, demons, and other magical beings are open game for Theodoratus. You can learn more about her writing at her author website or her blog, Lessons from My Reading. Kay can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.