By Stacey J. Haseleu
As writer’s, we’re not always fortunate enough to have a never-ending stream of ideas enter our minds consistently. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat at my computer screen, the blank white page of a Word document staring me in the face, only to promptly close the window, shut down my computer, and turn on the T.V.
The one thing I’ve found to be annoyingly true is that words come to me at the absolute least convenient of times. Like when I’m finally getting to bed at 2 a.m. after working on multiple projects and course work for 12 hours straight. Without relucatance, hesitation, or remorse, the words immerse my mind — repeating themselves until I finally give up, get out of bed and write them down.
I’ve wised up to this and placed a little pink journal and my favorite pen next to my bed. When a word or phrase starts to heckle me, I simply open the journal and write it down. It’s like taking the phrase by it’s hair and throwing it out the door.
But it would be ashame if all these insights were somehow lost in the vacuum of space forever. Some of my most creative thoughts come at these times. But how to remedy this?
Sage Cohen, author of The Productive Writer, suggests we start to collect all of these small, seemingly meaningless thoughts by writing them down in notebooks, on index cards, or sticky notes. “Acorns” she calls them. Then set up an “in-box” to deposit the “acorns” and when you have time pull one out and start writing around the thought or words.
A squirrel, I am not, but the idea really is genius — collecting your mis-fit ideas and repurposing them into their own, shiny pieces.
She even suggests in business writing to develop a “darling” page. So when you go through the pain-staking process of editing a document, the words, phrases, sentences, even paragraphs that don’t make the cut don’t end up in a black hole.
A darling page, for me, is word heaven.
Although a particular idea doesn’t fit in with the core message I am trying to convey in that piece doesn’t mean it can’t be recycled in a later piece, perhaps even become the focus of a new idea.
I’ve found, as Cohen so aptly states, that “Darlings have liberated me to be a far more swift and spontaneous editor. I can take action without second-guessing myself too much, because nothing is ever really lost; it’s just relocated to the darlings file, where I can always grab it again if I need it” (The Productive Writer, pg 49).
Looking at content this way makes me feel like I’m not wasting time; like every idea, word and phrase is worth something. Not to mention when I’m out of original ideas, I need only to look into my “acorn” box or “darling” file and find an old, but no less special idea, shine it up, and take it for a ride.