Losing an idea

It happens to all of us.  You’re driving down the highway at 60 mph (100 kph), not really thinking about much, and some great idea comes to you.  If you’re a writer, it’s a plot twist or some new novel idea or a snippet of thought that would make a great short story.

If you’re a scientist, it’s some interesting new experimental approach.  Or a doctor might think about a patient they saw the day before and how that cluster of symptoms they described might actually be signs of an underlying disease.

Whatever it is.  You’re driving along and it pops into your head.  And it’s so strong or so unique (or so obvious) that you think you’ll never forget it.  “Of course, Darth Vader is Luke’s father.  Duh.”

And maybe you repeat it to yourself a few times just to be sure you won’t forget.  “Darth Vader, Luke’s father.  Darth Vader, Luke’s father….”

But then you get to wherever you were going and your mind fills up with “important” things.  Like your partner’s boss’s comment that completely wrecked their day.  Or your kid’s latest report card.  Or the score of the football game and the fact that your favorite team seems to have forgotten how to actually play.

And by the time you get back to it, you’ve forgotten the idea.  Sometimes you forget that you even had the idea in the first place.  Worse, sometimes you know you’d thought of something really cool, but it just isn’t there anymore.

Ideas disappear.

Sometimes you learn.  And, if you’ve devoted yourself to a creative career where this happens fairly often, you start to carry around a pen and paper.  You place a little notebook by the side of the bed just in case inspiration strikes in the middle of the night.

And this is great.  You roll over and find the pen and paper in the darkness and you scrawl your idea down.  That amazing, vivid dream that felt so real you weren’t even sure it was a dream is now recorded for future use.

As “planet, disease, transform, space monkeys.”  (And that’s assuming you can actually read your own scrawl, which you likely wrote in the dark to either spare your partner or spare yourself the pain of a bright light shining in your eyes at 2 AM.)

Sometimes your note is legible, but you have no idea what it meant anymore.  I have a note I wrote somewhere for this blog that says, “What would you want your Wikipedia entry to be?”

It had something to do with someone who has something to do with writing who has an absolutely atrocious Wikipedia entry.  I think they were a published author, but most of the entry was devoted to some scandal they were involved in.  And I read it and thought, “That is horrible.  I would hate to have my writing career boiled down to that.”

But the note is now completely useless to me, because I can’t remember who it was about.  And I’m a thematic thinker, so that name is nowhere in my brain.  I recorded the lesson I needed, “try not to let your personal idiocy overshadow your writing,” and promptly forgot who was in the entry.

So, now the only use I have for that note is as an example of what happens when you don’t record an idea properly.  You think at the time that it’s so important that a few words will sum it up.  (And you do have to balance writing more detail against the odds of running the car off the road as you try to capture the idea.)

They don’t.  Not always.  Who knows how many great novels were never written for lack of a pen?

(And just to let you know, I may not blog the next few days.  Moving things, losing my Internet connection, and all.)

(And can I also say how cool it is that WordPress spellcheck recognizes Darth Vader?)


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
This entry was posted in General Musings, Life, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Losing an idea

  1. Trent Lewin says:

    I entered this post because of the idea about losing ideas, but I am glad that Darth Vader also makes an appearance. I love Star Wars. Anyway, on ideas, I firmly believe that if your brain allows you to lose an idea, it was meant to be lost. It is like internal screening of sorts, your brain sifting through what’s worth keeping and what isn’t. I dunno if that makes sense… I kind of forget how I got on this topic. What am I doing here anyway? Um, and why am I naked?

    • mhleewriter says:

      Yes, well, clothes are appreciated on this blog… 🙂

      It’s an interesting notion – that losing an idea is what was supposed to happen. I guess you can never know, because once you lose it, it’s gone for good. So, did you lose a bunch of worthless junk or did you lose pure brilliance? Hmm.

  2. Keri Peardon says:

    This happens to me all the time! I’ve almost made myself quit thinking about my book when I’m lying in bed, just because I lost so many great scenes and dialog when I fell asleep. I now try to keep a notebook and pen next to the bed and in the car for when I start having good ideas.

    • mhleewriter says:

      Yeah, it’s always fun to try to write something down while driving in the car and not taking your eyes off the road. I only had to do that once, fortunately.

  3. Dave Higgins says:

    I try to always have a notepad to hand to take a thorough note, and have the washing-up liquid stained pages to prove it.

    However for those moments when I cannot reach a pad I make a change to something, e.g. turn a shoe upside-down, put a takeaway menu on my keyboard. It reminds me of the idea; however because it is not a snippet of the idea my brain does not relax its recall in the same way as it does once something is written down. I find it especially good for bed-spawned ideas as it is obvious when I get up so I can take a better note in the light.

    • mhleewriter says:

      Huh. I wonder if that would work for me. I had some story idea this morning when I woke up and I wanted to go back to sleep for a little longer but I just knew that I wouldn’t hold onto it if I did. I’ll have to try your technique, see if it works for me. (Or if it results in half an hour of, “now why the heck is that shoe upside down?”

      • Dave Higgins says:

        When I started I expected to spent a lot of time wondering why things were out of place, but I rarely do; even when I do the inciting incident (see how I seamlessly use writing terminology ;)) usually rises to the surface a short while later.

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