Creative Writing

The Problem With Ideas

Some of the very best ideas come right out of the blue when we are least prepared for it. For me they tend to arrive at the most inconvenient times, generally when I’m out walking the Plott Dog or drying my hair.

It’s tempting to visualise myself out walking the lanes and fields with my obedient and trusty Plott Dog at my feet,settling into a leafy bower under the spreading branches of a towering English oak tree, drinking in the panoramic vistas of open countryside laid out before me while I dash off my magnum opus on the pristine sheets of a new Moleskine.

Reality is that for most of the year the lanes near my house look something like the picture below and the local bovine population have bagged the best seats in the bower to get out of the rain.

It is also tempting to kid myself that I can remember that complete scene, or page of dialogue which has just been reeling through my head at high speed. The reality of that one is that by the time I get home one hundred and one other thoughts have intervened and I can never quite recapture that nuance, that phrase or the erudition I’d enjoyed not minutes before.

There had to be a way to do it and I was determined I was going to solve this problem for good and, since I never go anywhere without my iPhone, I thought that would give me a fighting chance to snatch these flashes of brilliance before they’re lost forever. So I bought the very good and highly recommended Evernote App for the phone, put a desktop version on my laptop and congratulated myself on my organisation.

I should add at this point, Plott Dog weighs well over 100lbs and was built for tracking bear. He can cover 12 miles at speed without stopping or slowing his pace and has, it is alleged, one of the best ‘noses’ in the world. The merest whiff of a squirrel, the itsy-bitsy wafer-thin suggestion of a rabbit and we’re off, hurtling at breakneck-speed across the fields – I’m pretty sure they haven’t come up with an App for that—yet. Little surprise then that by the time I’ve managed to pull out my phone my muse has fled and I’m covered in mud or other guk.

Even when Plott Dog is being a bit of a slacker, there’s another problem: I’m long sighted. I don’t need glasses to walk around, in fact they’re a positive hindrance, but close-up I need assistance.  Without glasses, tapping my thoughts down using Evernote has produced some interesting results, not to mention new vocabulary.  It may have something to do with the guk factor too, but let’s not dwell on that. It worked-ish,  but I don’t like ishes, I like absolutes.

Plan B was the voice recorder. It made perfect sense really since it’s already on the phone, I thought. The problem with Plan B was that it promised way more than it delivered. Since childhood I’ve never been able to stand the sound of my own voice. You’d be right in thinking that I should have got over this problem by now. It’s silly and restricting and I think it probably dates back to the language lab at school, pretty advanced for its day with its massive whirring Grundig tape decks and rows of individual little booths, but just something I had a total disdain for.

I decided to be grown-up about it anyway and tried the voice recorder. The first time I did, I focused so much on getting it to work that I can’t have been paying attention to how windy it was. The results were less than stellar. I sounded like someone trapped inside a bag – a very big crackly bag.  Nevertheless, I persevered.

I was overtaken one morning a few weeks later by the local rambler’s group. Despite the fact that I probably just looked like I was talking on the phone, I was overcome by irrational feelings of complete foolishness. They nodded hellos and passed by with cheery waves and I stood there open-mouthed, phone clamped to my ear as my face turned slowly beetroot as if I’d been caught in some nefarious act.

I’ve grown so inhibited by the process  that the gulf between the words I hear in my head and the ones which come out of my mouth have become so great that the effect has been positively damaging to my creative process, so I’ve abandoned the experiment.

At 9:00pm last Sunday night I settled down to listen to Sue Cook’s very interesting The Write Lines programme on BBC Radio Oxford (95.2 FM). Her guests included Jane Wenham Jones, Richard Beard, and many other luminaries from the literary world. There was comment too from Barbara Trapido, Julia Golding and Helen Rappaport. ( If you’re not listening to it already, tune in if you can, it’s an hour very well spent).

I was interested to hear them talking about the use of voice recording to capture moments of clarity and inspiration.Barbara Trapido made the very valid point, and I paraphrase, that the act of speaking your story, instead of just simply writing them down, helps bring them alive.  Other guests acknowledged this but also commented on the fact that there can indeed be immense self-consciousness about talking to yourself. Jane Wenham Jones said she felt quite ridiculous with talking into a Dictaphone and Sue Cook, despite a long an illustrious career as a broadcaster, admitted to having problems with recording her thoughts.

It doesn’t really help me with my problem but at least I know, it’s not just me. I’m still working it and right now I have switched back to Evernote and a pair of bifocals, even though I do feel like a bit of a Bobblehead.

9 replies »

  1. I enjoyed this and can certainly associate with the problem. My problem is remembering those brilliant ideas in the middle of the night.

    Note taking is the way for me. I haven’t tried the voice recording option, but like you I think I’d find it inhibiting.

    Ever write Haiku… I’m experimenting with them at the moment. Very good for focus. (Have a look over at my page and join in if you wish)

    • I know what you mean Pseu – everything seems so clear in the middle of the night and then in the morning it’s like having amnesia.

      I have dabbled with Haiku, the results are dotted about the blog although I am not sure they are technically Haiku. I enjoy it very much and am in awe of those who can produce these tiny packages of perfection which pack such a punch. I have limited ability but I keep promising myself I will devote more time to improving. I will definitely hop over to your page.

  2. So glad it isn’t just me.
    I have a part time job as a school cleaner and my characters remain moodily silent until I plug in the vacuum cleaner. That’s the signal for them to leap into action – moving the plot along at such a pace that it’s like watching a movie in my mind. Then, as soon as I turn the machine off and reach for my iPhone to jot down a few key phrases, the Headmaster appears and I feel like a naughty kid getting caught using my mobile in the classroom!

    • Definitely not just you! I think sometimes repetitive tasks we can do without really thinking about like hoovering, walking the dog and ironing allow our minds go into free-fall, our right brain kicks in and muffles the internal bitchy editor so our creativity runs free. Now if I could only come up with a solution to capturing its output…!

  3. My last comment contains links, so awaiting moderation. (Links to NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month and to a short story I wrote as a result of it)

    • Yes I did it last year and am aiming to be a Nano rebel this year which means that instead of writing a novel I’m going off piste and aiming to create a set of short stories. I’m hoping to come out of it with enough WIPs to set me up for next year. I also have another motive for doing it this year with is explained here a-personal-challenge-goes-public/ and I wrote a little about my 2009 Nano experience here. Congrats on getting a story out of it, my Nano novel makes a handsome doorstop!

  4. Excellent. You put me to shame.
    However I too had already thought about attempting a series of short stories, but haven’t yet decided.

    The last time I did NaNo was to make me tackle something longer than a short story or poem, both of which I tend to spend hours and hours editing.