On Elizabeth Gilbert, technical difficulties, and negotiating with your muse.

I'm known for having technical difficulties. Sometimes they involve shoes, while running onto the subway (I slipped and my stack of books went flying; as the entire car stared, I smiled and did a half curtsy: "I meant to do that--naturally"); sometimes they involve Kindles (mine seems not to catch every manuscript I send it) and sometimes--when it has to do with sneaking an ipod with a video/audio recording feature into a reading by, say, Elizabeth Gilbert--the technical difficulty is me. That is, I can't leave it alone. I have to look at it--Hey, is this thing on? Is it still on? Are you sure...?--each time I touch the mike resulting in a dreadful, "So, with Eat, Pray"--SCREEEEEEEEEEECCCCCCCHHHH--"I meditated..."--SCREEECH SHUFFLE SHUFFLE SCREEE....

But she had some excellent advice that I can't help but share with you, in paraphrased form, weeks later: write your ideas when you have them.

Ideas, she said, seem to hover around us waiting for someone who is open to them--a writer, a songwriter, video game designer, anyone. If we don't pounce on them right that moment, expand on them on the page, the life of them fades. We can have napkins with keywords ("turbulence," "single malt scotch," "stain," "lawsuit") that later won't inflate into real-life, real paragraph, scenes. Instead, they become thin lines--all because we waited for a convenient moment to write them down.

Now, New Yorkers are, on the whole, accepting people. I can whip out a Moleskin and start jotting things down on the subway and, so long as I'm not setting the paper on fire with my quick scribbles, no one will look twice.

But if you're in a less accepting area of the country, I recommend the following: get out your phone, send a text to yourself (or save it in its drafts folder), and then say something like, "Sorry, that couldn't wait. So, cupcakes?"

After all, for whatever reason, it's far more acceptable to interrupt a conversation to Tweet what you eat than to capture an idea that may be your next big project. Go figs.

Elizabeth Gilbert described one of her friend's negotiations with his muse. He was a famous songwriter (she didn't mention his name) and was hit with the bars of a song he couldn't get out of his head. Trouble was, he was on the freeway. With no paper. No pen. No recording device. And finally he looked up at the clouds and yelled, "Hey! You! If you want to be a song, you have to come back later! Can't you see I'm busy??"

E-Gil's described the same thing--being in the middle of something, and having to negotiate with her muse. "Don't go to Barbara Kingsolver's house," she begged the idea.

What do you do when you're hit with an idea in a public place? Do you excuse yourself, dash home to your computer? Rush to the ladies' with your notebook? Do you keep your laptop in your car for such purposes? Or is your muse on a 9-to-5 (or kids' bedtime-to-your-bedtime) schedule?

This is Calliope, the muse the you're likely dealing with. 
Can you imagine negotiating with this woman? No, neither can I. 


SJDuvall said...

I either type up the idea on my iphone in notes, or I write it down in my mini journal in my purse. If I can't get to either of those without being rude, I try to remember the idea by repeating it hundreds of times in my head, or remembering what triggered the idea.

Holly Dodson said...

I carry a netbook in my large purse, a notebook and pen in my clutch, and an extra notebook and pen in my car. My best ideas always come when I'm a)eating b)driving or c)bathing my son. So I take a notebook then too. ;)

When I get a new novel idea I usually scribble down all the basics, the plot line, key points, whatever comes to mind until I can begin work on it. I try not to get carried away though, I may never finish my work-in-progress that way.

Rowenna said...

If I'm at work (where I am most of the time ideas come to me) I send myself an email. From my work email adress to my personal email address. How weird is that? 'Hello, Rowenna's writing personality, this is her work personality. She had a message for you about that sticky plot point in Chapter 12 and wanted me to pass it along. Cheerio, then. And by the way, if you happen to see her domestic personality, tell her to buy bread and eggs. Thanks.' Somehow this works for me.

Lindsay said...

The odds are good that when an idea comes to me, I'm probably doing something related to the kids and can't follow up on it until later. So, I usually send myself an e-mail or use the memo section on my phone or ipad. I love that feature.

And Rowenna, that isn't weird at all! I have "future Lindsay". She's the one who will get everything done that the present Lindsay is either a) avoiding, b) forgotten or c) can't get to until the three kids hanging on her are asleep:-)

Alexis Grant said...

I enjoyed that (TED, was it?) talk with Liz Gilbert! And I specifically remember that part you referenced about negotiating with your muse. I'm a note-taker; when I have an idea -- whether it pertains to writing, reporting or just life -- I'll stop and write it down on whatever I have with me. I usually carry a notebook, but sometimes it ends up being a napkin or gum wrapper. All works!

Watery Tart said...

Scrap of paper, pen. I don't carry a cell, drive much, or care what people think. I'm a little geeky that way. Then again, I live in a geeky town, so it's a-okay.

:) said...

The best ideas have staying power. Whether or not I write them down for whatever reason, the ones I expound upon always hover around me for a while.

Since I don't have time to follow up on every idea I have, that's how I know which ones to pursue.

Good for the bank account? Who knows. Ask me in ten, twenty years. Good for the soul?

Well, it works for me.


Ally said...

It's a multi-phase attack.

If have purse in hand:

- scribble on notepad tucked in side pocket.

If have purse in hand but no pen:

- record voice on blackberry

If have purse in hand but no pen and can't get phone out of irritating clip-on holder husband insisted I carry:

- record voice on mini recorder

If have none of the above, but have spouse/kid/relative/friend around:

- blurt out idea in one long stream, threaten bodily harm if he/she won't swear to repeat verbatim when any of the conditions above are met, apologize profusely.

I have also been known to write on shower wall with lipgloss snagged by one-handed reach.

Agency Gatekeeper said...

Dear Ally, and everyone who gets ideas in the shower: check these out--crayons designed, I imagine, for drawing rubber duckies and beach balls and other things for kids--but probably work equally well for shower ideas: