There are two basic hurdles or mountains one must climb in order to succeed with writing. One is successfully dredging the ideas from the deep abyss that is our minds and transferring them successfully to the page. Two is being able to look over those ideas that we saved and secured and polishing them until they shine.
My biggest hurdle is the first one. These ideas come and go as swiftly and gracefully as the wind. I listened to a TED talk hosted by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, (https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius) and she addressed some of these issues. Gilbert explained:
I had this encounter recently where I met the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone, who’s now in her 90s, but she’s been a poet her entire life and she told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia,she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.” And then there were these times — this is the piece I never forgot — she said that there were moments where she would almost miss it, right? So, she’s running to the house and she’s looking for the paper and the poem passes through her, and she grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her, and then she said, it was like she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail, and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first (Tedtalk.com).
This is exactly the same battle I (and I can imagine every writer) fight(s). It doesn’t help that I have a horrible memory, and if I don’t catch the idea and expand on it then and there, it’s gone forever. At times like these, I feel as if opening a new and ominous word document on the computer is too ‘official.’ My idea is not fleshed out enough for the consistency of typed letters, and neat rows on the cleanest digital white background. If the idea that I am working with is the initial spark to the great bonfire, then it is worked on in notebooks and scrap pieces of paper (that are then shoved between other pieces of paper and sometimes lost forever anyway). To help with this, I have heard that a lot of writers keep an idea notebook or journal with the bolts of genius quickly jotted down for later retrieval. Most of them never come to fruition, but at least they’re saved for later contemplation. Also, if there is a concrete writing schedule built, then these ideas can be worked on more quickly and worked on at a faster pace because I’m not waiting for chance and luck to strike.
The idea that I can passively sit and wait for inspiration to strike also doesn’t work for me. It is extremely rare that I am in the middle of doing something mundane, and I am then struck with the greatest story idea. I had one great “Ah Ha!” moment a few years ago, and I’m still waiting for another to strike. That was one of the best writing moments in my life. I was thinking about the fact that I have to constantly and actively think about it.
It was one evening while I was cleaning my kitchen that the opening lines from Bemelman’s Madeline popped into my head, “There was an old house in Paris all covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” As I was scrubbing dishes, the idea of using that premise to write about my own family and childhood suddenly popped into my head. I turned Bemelman’s lines into “In an old house in Vienna, all covered in vines, lived three little girls who thought they were lions.” I was extremely excited about this idea, and would not stop writing until the story was complete. I eventually made a little book of it and sent it to my older for her birthday. That was one of the best writing moments in my life, and it hasn’t happened before or since. Other than that precious night, I have to constantly and actively think about writing.