Rookie Move (or, why writers should keep pens and paper handy all the time, even when it’s impractical to do so)

One of the sort of take-it-for-granted bits of writing advice I once heard was, “make sure you’re always able to write something down.”  It makes sense.  If you believe in inspiration as I do (for the most part) then you know that it can strike you at any moment, without the slightest provocation, and that it can depart again with as little warning as it gave you when it arrived.  This is why, in my work bag, I keep a composition book and two pens at all times, no matter where I’m going or for how long.  It’s why I keep a stack of note cards binder-clipped in my back pocket and a pencil on my ear just about everywhere I go.  It’s why I keep a pocketknife ready to carve strips of flesh from my arm in the semblance of words I can later affix to a page, though I’m happy to announce I’ve not yet been reduced to that particular method of transcription yet.

Still, ideas sometimes slip through.  Occasionally I’ll have a brilliant idea strike my cerebellum only to bounce off like so many hailstones on the pavement.  Or, more often, something will seem earth-shatteringly clever to me as the thought strikes, but then when I try to articulate it, I realize it’s so foolish it doesn’t bear further thought.  Then there are the days when the fountain seems to dry up entirely and no amount of coaxing, cajoling, pondering or preening will make the ideas come forth.  It’s a crap shoot, in other words, whether the good ideas will get through or not, which is why it’s doubly important to always have the net ready to catch them before they crater in the vast depths of the ideas I will never write.

Let me back up.

The wife and kids and some extended family and I were all on vacation in a fairly swanky condo in Florida over the weekend.  I mentioned it last time, and then in a dutiful showing of a man on vacation, I didn’t write again until today.  Anyway, I had to come back for work, but my wife and kids stayed on and are staying on for a few more days of sun and surf (NOT THAT I’M JEALOUS OR ANYTHING), which means I’m at home by myself for a few days.  No kids.  No wife.  No distractions.  Perfect conditions to get some writing done.  And I did, and I plan to, and night one was brilliant and night two is shaping up just fine so far.

But at night the monsters come out.

Routine is a powerful thing, and when your routine is shattered, it tends to snowball out of control, like a tiny crack in your windshield spiderwebbing like a mutant octopus every time you hit a bump in the pavement.  With no kids, there is no bedtime.  With no wife, there is no meditative glass of wine before the bedtime I don’t have.  I found myself in bed at the appropriate time last night but unable to get to sleep for lack of the vague comforts that knowing your children are asleep in the next room can bring.  No warm backside to press my cold, bony toes into.  The actual night part of last night was, in short, all wrong.  In addition to staying awake for an hour and a half before sleep took me, I woke up of my own volition several times in the night: something I never do (if only because the kids will make noise and wake me up before I ever have the chance to wake myself).  But something else happened unexpectedly in the night: inspiration struck.

It struck with the illumination and voltage of a 1.21 gigawatt lightning strike direct to my cortex, and unfortunately departed just as quickly.  Because for all my various preparations and eventualities for capturing the most fleeting of writerly ideas during my waking hours, I’ve somehow never had the good sense to stash pen and paper next to the bed.  I just don’t get great ideas at night (or if I have, I’ve forgotten them).  But inspiration struck hard and fast enough to wake me and make me think, “gosh golly, I should really write that down,” which lasted me roughly until I remembered that I didn’t have pen and paper at bedside, and I’m sorry, but I’m not one of those writers who is going to huddle over and mash my latest screenplay snippet into my phone with my mutant monkey thumbs.  I’m just not.  No, the inspiration struck, and I realized I had no way to write it down, and I assured myself that this idea was so good, so inescapably awesome, that I would surely remember it in the morning.

So here I am, grasping at the straws that may once have stuffed its scarecrow, but which more likely were the bed for some flea-bitten ox with a penchant for pooping literal poop rather than the brilliant story ideas I might prefer it to poop.  I know it involved either Sherlock Holmes or some Holmesian character.  I’m pretty sure there was genetic modification involved.  There may have been a jetpack.  Also a rhinoceros on a train.  But it’s all one big useless jumble.  No more good to me than the vague idea that I really should have gotten up early and gone for a run today.

Lesson learned.  Paper is going on the bedside table tonight, where it will probably lie untouched until, months from now, I wonder what the hell I put paper on the bedside table for, and move it back downstairs where it belongs.