As writer, you work hard to take the reader on a journey, to think and to touch them in ways they’d never imagine. You spend a tremendous amount of time alone in your thoughts, thinking about what you want to say, and then when you have it, you spend the rest of your time figuring out exactly how to say it.
Writers talk often about the act of writing being a tough job, and, yes, it can be hard. It’s not for everyone. The stories of woe are many: Earnest Hemingway suffered from depression, drank too much, and ended up committing suicide in 1961. Emily Dickinson would sometimes shut herself in her room for extended periods of time. Although a prolific poet, she was unknown in her lifetime and her work was not celebrated by the masses until well after her death.
Now what was that again
Yes, the real life stories of Hemingway, Dickinson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edgar Allen Poe, and a million other writers are incredibly sad, but I still write. The toughest part for me, though, has long been the idea generation. Oh, I love coming up with ideas, I’m not talking about that, that’s the easy part. No, I’m talking about the “forgetting.”
Here’s what I mean. I’m falling asleep and a story ideas float in and out of my subconsciousness. I know they’re there, but I can’t put my finger on the idea the next morning or I’m out running an errand, and a promising idea comes to mind for a blog. The idea floats and marinates in my thoughts. I think about how I could take the story one way or another. A line or two starts to jump out. I keep adding and adding to it. And then, I have to run into a store or work in the yard, and over the course of my day, the idea goes up in smoke.
The idea evaporates into thin air. It’s like it never was there.
Did DaVinci ever have to do this?
When I worked as a newspaper reporter years ago, we used to regularly lose our work to a poorly constructed and overworked word processing system. You’d be working, there’d be a flicker of the overhead lights in the news room, and you’d get a blue or green screen of death. You’d lose everything that you had been working on for the past hour.
You’d close your eyes, your fingers crossed, waiting for the system to reboot, hoping and praying that you stopped once or twice to save the document and have something, okay, anything to retrieve from the library. Most times you’d have nothing, you’d have to start all over again.
When you lost your day’s copy that way, the process of at least having written it, would help jar your memory and bring it back. When I got over the pain and accepted that I needed to recreate my thoughts, I used to ask out loud if the great artists and writers of the past had to deal with the same types of challenges.
Did Leonardo DaVinci’s mother throw out the drawing that would help drive man’s thirst for flight that he worked on until the wee hours of the morning? Did Charles Dickens finish up the last chapter to “A Christmas Carol”, hand the manuscript to a carrier to deliver to his publisher, Chapman & Hall, and then have to go back to his desk a few days later and rewrite Chapter 15 verbatim because the pages got lost in the journey?
I could be wrong, but something tells me “no.”
There’s no real way around losing an idea, so I’ve resorted to keeping a notebook with me constantly and writing down the writing-related ideas that come to me as soon as I get them. I find too that it helps to journal. I sit down at the end of the day and write a few things that I’m thinking about and inevitably I’m able to recall everything that I thought about that day.
Now if only those ideas looked as awe-inspiring on paper as I imagine them in my head, then I might really have a New York Times Best-Seller on my hands!