Saturday, August 27, 2011

2- Taking Advantage of Moments

I often hear people saying that they'd love to write a novel or the story of their life or a book of poetry down the road when they retire, or when they have more time or money, or when their kids have grown.  Others have said that they need to have just the right get-away place--a cabin in the middle of the woods or a vacation spot on the water--in order to be inspired to write. 

What would make up the perfect conditions to write?  The perfect setting?  Is it a place of peace and quiet? Or the back booth of a noisy coffee shop?  Is it having the right computer and ergonomic desk and chair?  The right software or writing program?

Or is simply taking those first steps, regardless of life's circumstances?

Today was the funeral of Jack Layton, the head of one of Canada's political parties, who passed away suddenly after losing a battle with cancer.  He was hailed today as a "caring, passionate voice in Canadian politics who died at the pinnacle of his career."  While listening to the eulogy at his funeral, I was moved by what his son said about a trip his father had taken him on to teach him to sail.  Unfortunately, there was no wind that day, and they ended up marooned in the middle of the lake.  Undaunted, his father proceeded to teach him everything he could about the boat and sailing while they sat there.

Jack Layton told his son, "You can wait forever for perfect conditions, or you can make the best of what you’ve got now.”

So today I'm writing about making the best of what you've got now.  You may truly not have time to sit down and write now, but you can start the process.  You can take advantage of the moments.  Ideas come to you--if you are paying attention to them--at the most inconvenient times.  When you are dashing off to work in the morning, when you are watching the evening news, when you are waiting at a traffic light or picking up the kids from daycare.  They wake you up in the middle of the night.  They hit you while you are in Safeway shopping for groceries.  Or you finally figure out that illusive plot point while driving home from work.
The goal of a writer is to capture that moment, that thought, that idea, before it vanishes.  The likelihood of you conveniently being at your computer at the moment inspiration hits is slim.  John Lennon penned the words to "Imagine" on a napkin from the New York Hilton.  He wrote “Give Peace A Chance” on a small piece of paper.  That little scrap of paper sold for US$833,654 at a Christie’s auction in London.  Like John Lennon, writers will frantically use anything at their disposal to get the idea down on paper before it's gone.  A napkin.  A sticky note.  An index card.  A ripped page from a notebook.  I've used the back of checks in my checkbook,  or written on the palm of my hand.

Many writers carry a little notebook with them everywhere they go, just to have it handy to capture the idea or move a potential line of dialog from their thoughts to paper.  Think of your notebook as a spare brain dedicated to writing.  And now with the convenience of smartphones, some find it easy to use the note function on them or the voice memo.

It may not be the perfect time for you to write that novel, but if you can capture the ideas and the scraps of dialog and the images, you'll be miles ahead when you are ready to sit down and write, whether that's in a week, a year, or ten years--your ideas will be there waiting. 
"You can wait forever for perfect conditions, or you can make the best of what you’ve got now.” 


  1. So true Lois. I've got bits and pieces of fluff written down in a notebook here, one over there. There are times I have the perfect scene in my head (this has happened recently). I've got it all worded the way I want and then, I don't stop and put it to paper. Sigh. Now when I find I have the time to write it all down, it's gone. Like I said, just did this recently. Had a scene all worked out. Knew exactly how I was going to write it, but didn't stop what I was doing to put it to paper. Now it's gone. I know what I how I wanted the scene to be, but I can't recreate it the same's gone. :(

  2. I've taken to scribbling in a little notebook I keep in my briefcase. It has three sections, one for reminders to me, one for story ideas in general and one for scripts. Sorry to hear about your Canadian politician. He sounded like a great guy.