Always, when I have taken a break from creative writing, no matter how short, the doubt creeps in and halts my hand. No, that’s not what I meant to write; it halts my mind.
The act of putting words to paper is not the challenge. Rather, it’s the practice of reflection–of asking myself questions as I write, the practice of opening up the writing itself to its umpteen possibilities–that is so difficult to recover. It’s like any other muscle flaccid with underuse…asking questions and allowing the words to appear and be transcribed as they arise from the mind’s eye, must be practiced to make it strong. To make it responsive.
I am learning that to write well is to propel myself on a journey of discovery, to mine my own mind for what I think and why I think this way and how that way of thinking might have come to be. It is about taking the tangents, following the diversions, trusting, as the cliche goes, a leap into the dark.
I am learning to query the shimmering in-betweens.
I am learning to trust that the metaphors that appear are really way finders to what lies buried beneath. Beneath what? The usual, the expected, the mundane, or that dreaded and most accurate of descriptions: mediocrity. Too often I’m in a rush…I want to get to the end…but this process of unfolding, engaging, unknowing (yes, this is exactly it), is slow.
So, onwards with deliberate plodding. Query. Expand.
Feels like the first day at the gym. Again.
But the music is playing. The sun is shining. I am warm on the heated side of this window. Blue shadows stretch along the snow blanketing the fields. The cardinal’s feathers glow by the feeders. Juncos press tiny prints into the white. Sunflower seeds pepper the ground beside a mourning dove and a clutch of hopping chickadees. A nuthatch and a downy headed woodpecker swing from opposite poles of the suet cage. The paper in my notebook is cream, the ink in my pen is teal, and I am ready to begin. Again. And again.
I started to read back through my own notebooks. I have about twelve or so, plus a few others dedicated to recording specific things: poems that move me; writing project ideas; a do-it-yourself-MFA-in-progress where I synthesise ideas and craft elements gleaned from listening to podcasts and reading essays and books on writing.
I’ve been practicing writing, solidly, for eight years. But I haven’t read back through my notebooks beyond a superficial flip of a few pages every now and then. I’ve been afraid to. Until now.
I’ve learned the creation of art exists in a sort of dream space time…it’s malleable and stretches and contracts in unpredictable ways. I’ve learned too that time is only one element of many that shape a work of art.
I’ve trained myself to allow notebook writing to be completely free…no cross outs, no fixing…and over the years I have been able to (almost) silence the inner editor. And so, the writing in my notebooks captures my thoughts as they come.
I’ve trained myself to be patient. Images and thoughts arrive in fragments…often when I’m not at my writing desk…like a dandelion seed floating on a breeze. First, I notice and recognise the inspiration and then I make a herculean effort to remember and write it down as soon as I can. And over the years I’m getting better at not judging the fragments…better at not forcing them to fit writing I already have in place. This is hard work for me. Waiting. Noticing. Not judging. Recording.
I haven’t read back through my notebooks. I’ve been afraid. Afraid of pages and pages of, “I can’t write” or “I suck at this”, or some variation on that theme. And yes, there’s a lot of that in there. A lot.
But reading back I discovered something else: the fragments have been arriving for years…little tiny bits and pieces that serve different writing projects (I have many projects on the go)…arriving like dust motes drift, to land between my pages. They arrive not in a line, or in sequential order, or one project at a time…they bubble up and splash and explode, bump up against each other, circle, loop back…they are wild, they are of their own energy.
So, I’m reading backwards to write ahead. And practicing: waiting, noticing, not judging, recording.
There is a painting in the office where I work that I have walked by countless times. It’s pleasant enough, a picture of a water-filled ditch beside a farmer’s field. Ditch isn’t a romantic word. I suppose it could be a dyke or a channel, but it isn’t. It’s a ditch. The farmer’s house and barn are painted small, in the upper left-hand corner, to be far away within the painting’s horizon. Trees with full leafed boughs hang over the brown water in the ditch. The water and the leaves and the fields of grass are painted to suggest the winking bright light, a pleasing interplay of greens and yellows layered over darker browns. The brushstrokes are only visible in the width of the lines depicting the grass. This is not a painterly painting, but a realistic depiction. I stopped to have a closer look, to decide whether it is one of those paintings that’s actually a photograph printed on a canvas and stretched on a frame. A discovery that is both disappointing and smugly satisfying when it happens. But this painting isn’t a photograph; it’s a real painting.
Standing there, scrutinizing the detail…the layering of colour to create the interplays of shadow and light, the hundreds of tiny lines that show the movement of the wind, a thought leapt to my mind: this is why I did not become an artist. I don’t have the patience to paint those lines, to fill a canvas with so much colour variation and the details in sufficient proportion to convey to a viewer a wide field of grasses, a moving stream, tree branches swaying.
When I paint, or draw, I work small, in a white space I can manage. And, I confess, when I start, I’m impatient to be done. My favourite part of painting is finishing. I feel a keen frustration blocking in colours, I become exasperated by the restricted palette in my box of pastels. The shade I want is always elusive. The whole of the exercise is moving towards a climax I feel I can’t get to fast enough: adding those last flecks of white to the objects depicted, the highlight that makes the subject come alive.
I don’t have the same impatience with writing. But no, this isn’t true, I lie. I write with a longing to complete a piece (or pieces). This must be the subtext readers of this blog intuit when they suggest I’m too hard on myself. If I’m honest, I write with (through?) continual disappointment that I’m not there yet.
I agree, not a good place to be working from. I’m trying to be more open in my daily writings…to let the interplay of thoughts and ideas and exercises run wild on the page. To let the writing be “organic” …whatever that means. I guess it means to relinquish control. I’m not good at this either.
When asked by a writer friend the other day how my writing is going, I gestured with both hands, conducting the air between us, to emphasize that yes, I’m writing every day, “creating content” I said. I admitted I had no idea how it might all come together. And silently I worried whether it ever will.
I also wondered whether the final white glint of light, that flourish of white paint that is so satisfying to lay on the canvas—the painted finish I crave—has a writing equivalent.
It does. It’s the thousands of choices a writer makes before a story or an essay or a poem “is done”. It is the point at which all those choices – the movement of words in sentences, phrases and paragraphs, descriptions, dialogue, narrative arc, literary devices—fit together like a completed puzzle.
At the moment, I think I’m working with three or four different puzzles all jumbled together with a few corner pieces laid down but floating. I suppose the frustration is justified. But also, it makes me realise there’s only one way through, to work on each unique puzzle piece—like each blade of painted grass in the painting at my office—and find the best place for it. Also, settle in. Put frustration aside. Instead, think of longing as commitment, dedication, discovery. This could take a while.
I move through rituals. The routine movements coaxe the muse from the nether regions and help the lines of words unspool my thoughts, travel the length of my arm, cross my wrist, tickle my fingers and draw along the page of my notebook.
I light two candles to begin. This is supposed to symbolise an activation, but really mimic the action of lighting a fire under my bum. Though I love the glow illuminating the page, I love the sound of the match flaring, the scent of sulfur and smoke most. I love the sandpaper drag of the match head against the striker, the deep hollow shake of the matchbox with wooden sticks clicking away inside. I love the white magnesium ignition and the brief ripping sound in the air that quickly silences into a steady flame. I love the way the heat travels closer to my fingers in the long pause before the wick accepts the fire.
I crave the smell of melting bee’s wax with its hint of meadow flowers and honey. Sometimes I remind myself about the work it takes the bees to make a candle’s worth of wax. This is a comfort. Also, a reminder that writing a small amount each day will grow and build into something…not necessarily something bigger, but I do hope sweeter. At least, something formed.
I listen to music while I write. (Though, through these summer months I prefer the bird’s morning chorus, the subtle intensification of song that follows the waking dawn). Listening, a part of my brain becomes occupied – a cognitive necessity—and the muse tip toes out less fearfully.
Here’s a small selection of recent artist favourites:
Garth Stevenson albums Flying and Voyage (the deep and haunting sounds of his double bass are so beautiful)
Nils Frahm – albums Music For The Motion PictureVictoria, Empty, All Encores, Trance Frendz…others
Over the years, I’ve collected writing tricks. Writing is trial and error. Trial and error. Trial and Error. Process.
It’s the magic I doggedly pursue. The magic = words and phrases that drop together on the page…that work together perfectly…that surprise me so much I don’t believe I wrote them, instead, some creative spirit breathed through me for a moment I was lucky enough to have a pen in my hand and paper before me to catch them.
The magic happens rarely. Like a gambling addict, I show up each day and try not to lose more than I have to spend. Of my self.
Writing tricks get to the magic reliably…sometimes faster.
I write questions on little squares of paper. I use red paper because it’s my favourite colour. The questions relate to the piece or project I’m working on. Some of them could be a prompt to dig into sensorial aspects of the piece e.g., what does a bed sheet smell like? Some questions are meant to dive deeper into character: why would my character believe in an afterlife? Some questions are conceptually abstract or even philosophical: Is education culture?
All the squares are tumbled into a small cloth bag and shaken vigorously.
Each morning I pull one out at random—it’s important I don’t know what’s coming—and set a timer for 30 minutes and write. The rule is to write without second guessing, without cross-outs, for the full 30 minutes. A writing sprint. I am often surprised by what’s uncovered using this technique.
If I’m disciplined, I’ll transcribe the handwriting into a digital file on the computer Often, I’m not disciplined. The writings pile up. Sigh. Process. But 30 minutes of writing regularly generate 700-1000 words. And usually one phrase or word or sentence that is magic, that I’ll use when the pruning happens later.
One of my many challenges practicing creative writing has been writing character…writing a character who is not me. One who does not sound like me, does not think like me, and bounces gracefully against a protagonist who seems more like me, but also isn’t me. I’m trying to figure it out…how to write character better.
I have thought the difficulty has related to my own imaginative ability, or rather, my inability. Can I “play” someone else on the page? Many writing days I conclude with a definitive no. But the heart of it is, writing character requires a lot of work…a lot of writing about a character to get to know them…writing that will never make it into a story, but nevertheless will inform the story by letting me know how my character is likely to behave in a given situation….and more importantly, understanding the reasons for that behaviour. It requires I move through exercises of questioning, reflecting, understanding, and entertaining possibilities beyond my comfort zone to learn what that space is like. And it’s work. Hard mental work. And often research…a rabbit hole of distraction I’m far more comfortable tumbling down.
And I can’t help but see a connection.
The current uprising against police brutality and systemic racism has made me think a lot about the work I need to do myself, to question my own beliefs, to check myself, my thinking. It’s slowly dawning… it takes a great deal of intention and sustained commitment to stop and consider other points of view, other experiences, other histories, other cultures, the destructive effects of violence, war, poverty, injustice. It requires I enter a space of discomfort and enter into active dialogue to work and question and sit cross legged with sorrow and hate and greed and anger and welcome these conversations.
I fall too easily into a position of defense. I want to write here: I’m compassionate! I’m empathetic! I want to explain how I read avidly, across genres and authors, to actively participate in a process of broadening my mind, challenging how I think about sex, identity, ethnicity, gender, culture, poverty, and yes, race. In my professional life, I work to change policy to promote health and wellness in our community; I work to promote equality and equity. So why do I use the word “defense”, I ask myself? Unpacking this makes my skin prickle, makes me admit my privilege: I have choice; I have freedom…I have time to read! And therefore, I am in a position of power over others who do not.
And with power comes responsibly. Responsibility to be an active witness, an active listener to the stories of others, and use my imagination and my position to create a different way of doing things.
And instead of being strong, I think it’s important to be soft, tender, and vulnerable…the true way to remain open.
I’ve finally found a groove of writing that fits me. It’s taken years to settle into it. I feel silly posting it here, except it seems that so many people who write are obsessed with knowing how other people write. Me too. It’s as if, by knowing the steps Writers take, the magic will dust its sparkles across my body and I’ll produce sentences that are equally sublime. Turns out that’s a fairy tale. I’ve always loved fairy tales; I won’t easily let them go, but the stark truth is that each writer must find what works best for them…and it takes a lot of trial and error. Well, continual trial and error. Like, forever. That’s part of it.
The steps that work for me, and why. Part 1.
It’s essential I wake early in the morning and write for an hour and half. Sometimes I can squeeze two hours in, seldom three, before my job-job demands begin for the day. I can’t manage the 5 am wake up seven days a week because I need to catch up on sleep one or two mornings, but I do manage it five days a week. I think this is pretty good.
There are two reasons (am I so obsessed with numbers? It appears I am.) the early waking helps me write. The obvious first is that I write knowing no one in my family will interrupt me. I write undisturbed and focused for the brief time allotted. This may seem trivial, but for a mother and wife, the waking hours that fill the rest of the day are always “on call”. I am able to defend my morning space if someone wakes early and ventures to start a conversation…they will retreat and let me alone most of the time. But any other time, my defense of writing time is ignored, even if—ha ha, when—I become a spitting bitch With an iron will and gritted teeth (and it appears, a heady list of clichés) I tell myself I chose these paths in my life too: wife, mother. I do want it all. And a lonely cabin in the woods, by a lake, with decent wifi, where “someone” delivers breakfast in a basket and a gin and tonic at 4 in the afternoon. In fairy tales one can dream.
This segues nicely into my second, more important, reason for rising before dawn to begin writing. My brain remains asleep, closer to a dream state than a waking one. It is easier for me to access my subconscious this way…the place where imagery is strangest, and the juxtaposition of disparate words move to the page unquestioned. My inner critic sleeps on while my inner dancer prances. It is not unusual for me to re-read in the afternoon what I wrote in the morning and not recognise a word or thought that is there. Often, it’s a discovery. “Later day” writing always sees me tinkering a perfectionism that dulls the shine, completely rubs the magic away. Stories rise out of our subconscious…our bodies are trying to communicate something to us. There is a deeper knowledge there that requires patient practice to fish it out.
I write by hand, in a notebook. I used to write stories and prose directly on the computer and use my notebook for journaling by hand…but I discovered my thoughts are freer when I write by hand. I also discovered that when I type on the keyboard and watch the text laid down on the page, I read and re-read and re-read the sentences and paragraphs and I can’t help myself correcting them and forcing patterns prematurely (I’ll return to this idea shortly). In contrast, when I write by hand, I never stop my progress on the page to read what I have written. Instead, I keep my pen moving and the ideas and images in my brain rise out of the murk steadily and easily. I think there is something to this, the fine motor skill associated with forming letters with one’s fingers, the drawing of squiggleys, and some association with cognition. Steiner, the founder of Waldorf schools, used to have his students knit while learning lessons as he believed the small movement of fingers aided memory. I’m looking into it…subject for a different post. For me, the reading and correcting on the computer is a disruption to the creative writing process. It’s taken me a long time to understand this.
I write with a pen instead of a pencil. Unless it’s poetry. Poetry generation is always done with a pencil and never stays within the lines…it just doesn’t. I allow myself the use of an eraser with poetry. For prose and reflection, I write with a pen…a pen that feels good in my hand and doesn’t drag too much on the page…this helps relieve finger and hand fatigue…very real if you haven’t practiced handwriting. And I have a rule that I’m not to cross things out, if I can help it. All words count. And this permits a complete freedom in the generation of material. Handwriting speed seems to match my thinking speed. Or, maybe it slows my thinking speed so that my attention is improved. Most people prefer to type on a computer because it is fastest for getting their thoughts down. But I need to slow my thoughts. A pen helps. I’ll stop here for now. I hadn’t realised writing about my writing would take up so much space. I’ll post part 2 in the weeks to come.
I used to sit down and write a short story in an evening, tinker with it through the week, prepare it for submission and send it out to literary magazines. Only one of the week-longs has been published; the rest are sticky with rejections. Some encouraging personal rejections from editors lets me know there’s possibility on the horizon.
So, these last years (yes, years), I’ve dedicated myself to the study of creative writing craft and practice. I’m better at the studying part. I continue to write every day, but the complexity of understanding and applying the layers of what goes into the making of a great story is daunting: word precision; grammatical sentence variation; paragraphing; elucidating the wonderful complexities of human beings through character development; the importance of setting as metaphor; tension and movement (that winding thread of impossible-not-to-follow suspense we writers gift our readers in its many guises of plot).
So far, I suck at writing plot. Funny thing: I can tell a story verbally, stringing along my listeners through crescendos to a climactic punchline and raucous laughter, but I can’t do it on the page. It’s not the same thing. It reads like a limerick: I know an old man from Nantucket…
Another aspect of writing practice I’ve learned…no, I am learning: I should suspend working on craft aspects of my story until all the generative writing (read: stream of consciousness, letting it all flow out, write to explore, write to open up) is complete. I make the mistake of thinking I am done my “first story draft”—my “generative writing”—over and over and over and over and over again. An absence of plot is a good indication more generative writing is to be done. Even I get bored by my characters not doing much of anything, you know, looking out the window and sighing deeply.
I’ve been working through Andrew’s Living Revision exercises on a short story I rewrote [again] in July. I was actually sailing through the exercises, exhuming some pretty interesting discoveries (like, my own memories and emotions—yes, I cried several times through these exercises—that are driving this story). Kudos to Andrew’s methods for helping me get that far. But I got stuck, petrified (in the stone sense), on page 101 (of 288) when tasked to write an “expansion draft”.
I found myself rewriting the same paragraphs of the story, and I did this without any copy and paste…it seemed I couldn’t expand anything, couldn’t go any deeper. I wondered whether I should just quit the project for a while and try something new (which feels like admitting defeat).
Then, last week, I listened to a podcast, Between The Covers and a craft talk with Alexander Chee and Tin House called, “From First Draft to Plot”. Chee explained his own experiences, through twenty years of teaching creative writing, how emerging writers (yes, after 6 years, more?, of part-time-squeeze-writing-into-my-busy-life I am only just deserving of the title, “emerging writer”) have not developed the skills (yet) to query the scenes they have written.
Chee explains there are many implications in student’s draft scenes that have not been dealt with…unmet implications the writer is ignoring. His advice: ask questions of your scenes, such as, how did the character end up there? Why? Where is this character from? What was their schooling like? Chee says, “to build a story and a plot is the process of interrogating the scene, again and again with questions and each time you get answers, push back further and further into the story as far as you can go.”
Of course, most of this additional writing never makes it into the story, but instead becomes the skeleton, the subtext, the backstory the writer must know, know on instinct, know on a sub-conscious level, in order to puppet master their story to life.
Sometimes, the right words of encouragement arrive at the point when you most need them.
In writing workshops, when pressed to write (without thinking too much) in response to creative writing prompts, my writing reveals some beautiful phrases that retain spontaneous energy and emotional authenticity, the magic every writer wishes for. I believe in these small beauties…they embody a promise: I can produce good work.
I’ve been trying to cultivate the same playfulness, the letting go, in my regular writing practice. For the first few years, it seemed easy (easier?). But, the more I study the craft, the more I practice and revise, the more I read and read to understand the deeper aspects of literary technique…well, the harder it is, it seems for me, to echo the spirited performance on the page.
I’ve contracted, what Philip Pullman so accurately diagnoses in his essay, Heinrich von Kleist: “On the Marionette Theatre”, subtitled, Grace Lost and Regained, a “self-consciousness” in my writing. Through knowledge, I’ve lost the “wonderful freedom and expressiveness—the natural grace—[children] bring to such things as painting [writing]”. I’m verklempt.
And I’ve been lamenting and grieving the loss…mourning I will never regain my original (and beautiful and spontaneous) innocence.
I’m stuck in the gap perfectly articulated by Ira Glass:
“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.
But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit.
Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Philip Pullman’s essay intensifies Glass’s gap to illuminate my short-sighted grief over the loss of childish creative abandon: “if we want the wisdom that comes with experience, we have to leave the innocence behind.”
What is most encouraging though, and has lifted a weight from my shoulders I hadn’t realised I was carrying, Pullman explains, “ …eventually, after great study and toil…[there] will be better, deeper, truer, more aware, in every way richer than…[what one] could achieve [as] a child.”
And then this in my email inbox (there’s no mistaking serendipity), Robert McKee’s latest update about the reality of writing story:
“No matter your chosen medium, remember this: it will take you ten years to master your art…It takes many years of work, but the disciplined writer knows that given determination and study, the puzzle of story yields.”
I know that if I’m to make any sort of progress with any of my creativity projects, I have to push myself to get uncomfortable. Last week, I went to a life drawing class. It was terrifying. The last time I tried to draw a figure from a live model was in high school, thirty years ago.
This is much harder than I had thought it would be. Throughout the three-hour class I kept reminding myself to look at the nude model not as “a person”, but a series of connected shapes, a composite of lights and shadows, lines and angles stringing together, a build-up of spaces between limbs and body. But I kept having to remind myself to lift my chin, consciously, intentionally, to look at the shapes and spaces of the figure in front of me and try to transcribe them to paper. Often, I found I was relying on my own internal representation of what I was seeing, on memory that was miserably inaccurate. And also, idealised. My mind kept thinking about the person, wondering about personality, character, wondering at the courage of a person who will remove all clothing and strike a pose while fifteen pairs of eyes rove along their curves. Slowly, slowly, by really “looking”, I began to see muscles and the angles bones make at the knees, the elbows. I began to see the beautiful wing-shapes at the base of the neck, the stunning ridged curve of the spine.
The instructor used several fantastic exercises to get the class to “draw what we see, not what we think we see”: we drew with a stick (a participant was sent outside to retrieve them!) and black ink; we drew with our non-dominant hands; we drew with both hands at once; we drew the figure in under a minute; we built our own drawings on top of what other participants had already sketched out; we used a variety of different drawing materials; we dusted our faces and hands with charcoal. It was fun.
And I thought about how these lessons transfer to writing. Too often I’m thinking about the whole of “a story” or “a poem”. So, just like refraining from looking at “the figure”, I can practice slowing down and honing the pieces of a story or poem—the words, the sentences, the actions in a scene, the emotions in a character, how the story moves, the arc and shape of that movement from beginning to end—these things will come together to make a whole. And there are plenty of exercises to practice each of these. Part of the practice is just letting go. Letting the pieces of a story or poem speak for themselves instead of trying to control them.
Kirsten Valdez Quade explains the value of this drawing lesson to writing: “To see—and to see properly, without interference of preconceived ideas…is the writer’s central responsibility.” And perfection is not to be strived for, because there is so much beauty in the roughly sketched (both drawing and writing). How much gesture can be summed up in a minimal line? How much “personality” captured in the angle of the head? How much weight of the body is conveyed through a juxtaposition of shadows and highlights?
Writing is another form of still life, one that moves from internal to external, through time, through imagination, through space…as writers we have to question ourselves all the time: how am I seeing? how am I looking? Let the mind’s eye loose…and see, really look, at what materializes out of the dark spaces of not knowing.
Sometimes I imagine ideas are the energy of the universe, that ideas float around, ready to be harvested and processed. Songwriters often speak about “catching a song” and writers describe the experience of a poem or phrase as “falling onto the page”. What if “inspiration” truly is as easy as breathing in, sucking in all those ideas hovering around like dusty moths ?
But ideas are only the starting point. For ideas to become something more, they cycle through ideation, then innovation, through development to actualization…and the process, even though it’s cyclical, isn’t linear…ideas move and shift through multiple iterations before they become “something” . But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First, it’s important to manage ideas. Running around, filling my butterfly net of a brain with too many ideas, my mind chatters and hums. It’s noisy. And I’m an idea hoarder; I collect them like little museum pieces. Where? Well, a number of places…scraps of paper, a tiny notebook in my handbag, but mostly digitally, using Evernote. I’m pretty disciplined about moving ideas into this digital space. And there they sit. Trapped. They aren’t moving from the idea stage at all because I’m not working to build on them.
I often wonder if the digital space, one that keeps much of our process invisible, might hinder our creative progress ? In the digital space, i.e., my computer, ideas can be tagged and searched and filed, but I’m the one performing these actions, controlling the associations as I enter information in. The digital space with its linear and algorithmic filing system makes it difficult (impossible?) to pull back and notice patterns, WITNESS how thoughts or interests change over time, mirror the curvy shape-shifting necessary to discover surprises or explore tangents.
I tried a method for tracking ideas, proposed by Vancouver writer Elliot Chan in this great 8.5 minute video. He suggests keeping ideas in a notebook, a new idea for each page. The hardest part of this exercise for me was buying a notebook I felt comfortable enough to leave blank (wasted?!) pages in . Following Elliot’s method, I went through my extensive “ideas” files on my computer and transcribed them into a notebook, one fresh idea per page.
Working through this process I learned some interesting things that, for me personally, are quite amazing:
I don’t have “just ideas”. The files revealed I’ve been doing quite a lot of thinking. I was able to write MANY related thoughts as I transcribed into my new “ideas” notebook, quite literally filling the pages beneath my initial ideas. Hmmmm.
Relatedly, I discovered I have a lot of ideas repeating…over time. I have been entering similar thoughts about the same subjects…a lot…a pattern started to reveal itself!
Instead of feeling like I have too many ideas, once they got transcribed into a notebook—a physical object I can hold and flip through—the list of ideas coalesced into just 11 or so! Amazing! And not so daunting, from a working perspective…maybe.
Most importantly, I could start to freehand and draw connecting lines that curved up and around the page…connecting associations that became visible because they were located in the same physical space….not locked under different file names or digital tags.
And just as important as managing ideas…it’s important to let some go. I freed those jellyfish moths; they float away for the taking. Or not.
 inner critic notes: What? Like a vacuum cleaner?
 for some reason, when I picture what an idea might look like, I think they must be light and nebulous, with glass-like transparency, not unlike the way jellyfish float through the oceans, ephemeral, solid and not solid at the same time. Visible and not visible…and then only for someone who might be looking in the right way, at the right time, slant-wise, out of the corner their eye, to receive them. They are gifts, aren’t they?
 I don’t know the answer to this. It would make a good debate topic (another idea!)
 I bought one on sale for 9 bucks that looks physically different from all my other notebooks but still has great paper that’s a pleasure to write on.