Of course, when you’ve chased down an idea, you’re usually ready for it – at least in the basics of having pen and paper, or a keyboard, or whatever method you prefer to record your writings by. I don’t know, human ingenuity on the topic of recording the written word is pretty extensive. Maybe you use granite and a set of chisels for your writing. (If you do, more power to you and I am very impressed – also, how do you edit?) Whichever method, if you were hunting an idea, you were prepared to write it.
When an idea chases you down, however, it can be far from such convenience to retain it for later use, much less express it coherently afterwards.
I’ve been known to stop in the middle of conversations – the middle of sentences – and quite literally dash for the nearest bit of pen and paper to scribble out something that has just struck me. (This is an excellent reason to keep an appropriately-sized notebook and a couple of pens on me at all times.) Perhaps even more unsettling for the people with whom I am conversing are the times when I do not, however.
There are some times when I continue to participate in the conversation at hand, but without any proper focus. My eyes tend to wander towards a view no one else can make out, and my speech loses its normal cadence. (I’ve seen a few pictures of myself like this. Sometimes I look normal. Sometimes I look like somebody’s switched me off and I’m running down like a wind-up soldier.)
Multi-tasking is a particular skill of mine (dependent, of course, on what requires such focus) but at times it can be a little confusing – say when the tracks in my mind exchange places and real conversations get confused with the worlds in my head.
I have noticed that for some reason people tend to become unnerved when one randomly interjects into a conversation about the renovation of roof tiles something about the classification colours of werewolf ID tags, or how a steampunk superheroine would go about changing into her ‘uniform’, or half a sentence about intergalactic politics (and how assassination is clearly not only a useful, but essential tool for manipulating them). Some people are just strange, no?
Thank goodness for writer-friends, who not only tend to be far less weirded out, but inquire as to the idea going on in one’s head, and often seem to suggest refinements of these little fits and starts if subjected to them – and pretty much always understand the need to jot down notes right now, via keyboard or notebook or napkin, whatever is at hand.
On more than one occasion, when I’ve been out on my own and an idea has struck me (I’ve noticed not simply driving, but driving certain routes from my routine inspire stories) I have narrated it to the accompaniment of my car radio. Explaining the idea out loud in detail, possibly over and over, all the way until I reach home and the ability to scribble or type out as much of the idea as I can keep hold of.
It does work almost as well if I silently run the ideas through my mind, but I find at least for myself it is so much easier to get distracted from them that way. Then I might remember several minutes later what I was doing before my mind wandered, but it is of course far too late to recapture the idea.
The difficult part of this technique often comes, at least for me, when I finally do get to a point where I can attempt to get the idea out properly on the computer. Because then I stop focusing on the whole of it (trying not to forget anything and keeping it all as clear as possible) instead beginning to write it out properly. When I stay for more than a few seconds on one part of the story, the other parts begin, slowly, to disappear.
Sometimes I lose those later parts entirely, sometimes (even more frustratingly) I am left with only the vaguest ideas of what was to happen in that space. Enough to try and work it out again, at least, but often just enough to leave me unhappy with what I’ve got, knowing it isn’t quite right. It’s a problem I have yet to figure out a solution for at all!
Still, since I stopped worrying quite so much about talking to myself (even if that means muttering story details to myself while I wander the grocery store) or excusing myself to scribble in my notebook for a few moments, I do much better at capturing those spur of the moment will o’ the wisp ideas. It even tends to work better than using a voice recorder, for me (as long as I write them down soon, as opposed to, say, sleeping another six hours first, for those middle-of-the-night ideas).
What do you do when an idea stalks you, at just the most inconvenient time to try and capture it? Have you ever split from a conversation because you had an idea that just had to be noted down right now? Do you occasionally mumble to or about your characters while going about daily errands, possibility of garnering strange looks or no?