A few entries ago, Liza wrote about finding a defining sentence and putting it on a sticky note (an idea stemming from Elizabeth Partridge’s lecture). It made me think of the many ways we, as writers, work, and also how we preserve our ideas. I remember hearing Joyce Carol Oates speak at a conference. She said that she plots the whole book out and tapes it on pages all along the walls of her office like a map, so that she can keep track of her plots and sub-plots (We mustn’t forget about sub-plots, people). Edward Albee said that ideas come to him all the time, but he never writes them down, figuring that, if an idea is any good, it will stick in his brain.
Mapping out a book like Joyce Carol Oates would kill my desire to write it, and destroy the sense of discovery that keeps me working. Trusting my memory like Albee (who was the first person to tell me I had talent as a writer, when I was 22) would be close to a disaster. So when ideas come to me, I write notes on anything handy: napkins, receipts, bank statements, the little notebook Jill gave me that I keep in my purse. I call my home phone from my cell and leave messages for myself. If one of my kids gets home and listens to the messages first they might hear: “She is sucked into a vortex.” Or, “The witch drowns in chocolate.” My husband Michael also bought me a micro-tape recorder for when I drive. I just can’t let one idea escape, although, yes, I often forget about these pieces of paper or lose them. Another process I am teaching my son is to work in stages and drafts, a little each day, comparing it to the instruments he plays (three), how baby steps can add up to something big, something we all know by now, but is nice to remember
It is all about finding your process, your tricks, and your triggers.