“Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea forever.” ~ Will Self, novelist
The fact that our short-term memory can only retain information for three minutes explains a lot. Sometimes this can be a good thing, as there are things we would rather not even retain for three minutes. But how about those other things—those things that we want to remember?
On the rare occasion when I come up with a good idea, I am sure it is so good that I will remember it forever—no need to write it down. Inevitably, I am left with later trying to piece together just what that good idea was. And if I cannot find it in my short-term memory, then it probably got filed in that vast vacuüm (at least in my brain) called long-term memory, never to be excavated at will.
Why do we never get good ideas at convenient times? Why is it when we are weeding the garden (okay, this is just an example—and yes, I have weeded my garden—just not lately)or burning—err….I mean cooking dinner, or hiking in the Appalachians? (No, I have never hiked in the Appalachians—I am not even sure people do hike in the Appalachians. And second: No, I have not hiked all that often—but I am using my imagination here.)
Amy Peters, in her book, “The Writer’s Devotional”, says that: “Ideas can—and do—surface at any time, and sometimes at the most inopportune moments. Chopping onions when the next great thought arrives? Put down your knife, pick up a pen, and jot it down. A stroke of brilliance arrives while you are en route to the store? When you stop at a red light or pull into a parking lot, take a moment to write it down.”
I am not sure what world Ms. Peters is living in, but if I am chopping an onion, I am probably doing it to create one of my wonderful gastronomically and palate pleasing creations, and could not possibly stop the artistry to write down an idea! And anyway, my eyes will be streaming because I did not take one of those precautions you are told to take when chopping an onion, so I would not be able to locate a pad and pen anyway because my eyes will be gushing onion tears!
A stroke of brilliance on the way to the grocery store? Stop and write it down? I am lucky to have remembered the list I took painstaking time to create and probably left at home on the dining room table (and thus will forget something basic like eggs and have to make a trip back to the store, and on the way to the eggs go by the bakery and pick up something verboten that I bypassed heroically on the first trip.)
The other advice Ms. Peters gives is to keep a notebook by the side of the bed, and “When you wake in the morning, record any thoughts that may have come to you in your dreams. Many writers find inspiration from their dreams.” Those who find inspiration from their dreams do not have the kind of dreams I have. When I wake up from a dream, which is usually confusing to start with, I am generally in no mood to write it down.
My dreams consist of three themes: not being able to find my geography lab in Windsor Hall at the university I attended almost four decades ago (I think I found it three times the whole semester of first year); believing I am awake while I am dreaming and wondering if I could do things in this dream that I would not dare do in real life, but not being convinced totally that I am dreaming; or having some kind of nightmare—and who wants to remember that?
Having said all that, I do carry a notebook with me almost all the time. But I do not use it to write down random thoughts. Whenever I have done that in the past, I go back to the notebook, find the supposedly “good idea” and cannot make heads nor tails of it. In what I thought was a stroke of genius, like “the red dog never dies” or “why can birds sit on electrical wires and not keel over”, I find the stroke of genius not so brilliant.
So, I am left with all those “good ideas” swirling around, lost in the cosmos. And you are left to read this. Sorry.