Yesterday, I had a brilliant idea for this column. I stood in the doorway of my lounge room and thought, Yes, that’s it; that will roll off the keyboard and be something people want to read and all will be well for this month. And I thought, I’ll get to that; I’ll get that down. Maybe in a few minutes. Maybe a bit later.
Because I didn’t write it down and now I’m writing this column to you instead: about how you should always write down any little idea, even if you think it’s stupid, and especially if you think, I don’t need to write down, I’ll definitely remember it.
I have a good reputation amongst myself for remembering ideas. In fact, I can only remember two or three other times when I’ve forgotten good ideas. And each time, it has plagued me for ages afterwards. As this one will.
What the hell was it?
Well, now it’s this: me rambling on about how important it is to write your ideas down. I write mine down mainly on my phone, sometimes on scraps of paper, sometimes into my laptop. They are usually there for me to inspect a while later and say, “Wow, I’m so glad I wrote that down.”
A recent story Canary Press will publish later in the year came about that way. I got a bit of a voice for a character happening while I was travelling on the train, so I just put into my phone that character saying a few things. Later, I built it into a story called ‘All the Ropes Had Blood on Them’. A similar thing happened with a poem, because I’d written down scraps of ideas for five years on pieces of paper. I checked through them all before my poetry book Standard Variation came out, and I wrote a long poem using the best of those fragments as launch pads for the poem’s sections. It made it to the book.
I could go on and on about examples of stories, essays and poems that I’ve had published – or that are in progress – as a result of being smart enough to write down about half a dozen words in the first instance so the thing didn’t get lost. So the impetus would be there for me when more time arose to get the piece drafted. So that I could actually do what writers do and take decent notes.
You can tell I’m angry. I’m disappointed for you, that you have to read this column and not the brilliant one I had planned. The one that made me say, “Yes! That’s it!” The one that made me think, yes, I can write. I do think of interesting things to say. I’m not a fraud. I’m not just a person typing. There are intricate layers of meaning attached to all these black and white patterns I put on the screen or page.
I’m sorry about this column. Sorry that you didn’t get to read something interesting, that might matter to your writing practice. I’m going to put it into my journal or phone (if I can find it) now: Never get complacent. Always write down your ideas. Or you’ll embarrass yourself in front of your readers.
Paul Mitchell is a Melbourne writer. His poetry book Standard Variation (Walleah Press, 2014) was reviewed favourably in The Australian so now would be a good time to buy it. In October, he also had a play called Ragdoll performed as part of ‘DarkLight’, Melbourne Writers’ Theatre/Wayne Pearn’s season of one-act plays at La Mama Courthouse, Carlton.