Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The importance of capturing the moment

by Rick Blechta

Good ideas come in their own time and own way. Regardless of whether you’re an ink-stained wretch like me, I’m sure you’ve all arrived at solutions to problems at the most inopportune moments. And if you’re like me, you’ve often failed to capture and hold on to that fleeting idea. Trying to rejuvenate a lost idea after its passed through your mind is a bit like someone presenting you with a bouquet of faded flowers.

When I was still teaching band in schools, my assignment involved working in several schools, which meant driving, sometimes on busy highways, sometimes on residential streets. My current work-in-progress would often drift into my head during travel time and I sometimes came up with the most marvelous ideas, only to find I couldn’t capture “the moment” when I sat down to write that evening. Believe me, it got exceptionally frustrating in a very short time.

The obvious solution was to carry a journal. When I’d get to my destination, I’d jot down a few notes. Sometimes this worked; most of the time, it didn’t. I remained frustrated as good ideas continued drifting into nothingness.

What I needed was to capture the moment of inspiration — right when it happened. Driving on a 6-lane highway is not the time or place to pull onto the shoulder and begin to write, even if it’s just a few quick notes, so I got a handheld recorder. The first used mini cassettes, but technology changed and I eventually graduated to a digital one.

Voila! Problem solved.

But the writing gods were still not smiling. One wintry day, I was paying too much attention to my muse and not enough to the road. At the very last second, I spotted a car stopped in the middle of the road. I eased on the brakes, started to skid, and watched helplessly as my car continued towards its date with destiny. Fortuitously, I stopped without hitting it, but when both of us got out to look, I was literally only an inch from the guy’s back bumper. He still reamed me out for being careless. I shot back that he didn’t put his hazard lights on. Still it was hard to get too angry. I knew I’d been damned lucky.

Back to the drawing board.

Shortly after, I happened to run into an actor/friend and he said that in order to memorize a role more quickly, he found it was advantageous to speak it out loud.

“It doesn’t work as well if you say it in your head. You need to get your mouth involved. For some reason, it drives things into your memory better.”


The next day, I was struck with an interesting angle for the new chapter I’d be working on that evening. I was on the highway. My trusty recorder was sitting on the passenger seat. Should I risk life and limb to get down my idea? My friend’s comment percolated into my head.

So I drove along talking the idea over with myself, loudly. I went on at great length and listened with riveted attention. And you know what? It stuck. I was traveling over lunch hour and had a few minutes to jot down the ideas before afternoon classes began.

I’ve used the system ever since and it’s never let me down. Well, actually, that’s not true. One time I wasn’t paying attention to my speed while declaiming in my car. I got pulled over and the interruption caused me to not only lose the feel of my idea, but every iota of what it was in the first place.

C’est la vie.


Sybil Johnson said...

Great idea. I did something similar once when someone hit my car. I memorized the plate (they drove off) and said it to myself out loud over and over again until I got home and could write it down. My insurance company found the person and all was well. (Well, except the $2000 in damage to my car.)

I never thought about using this for remembering writing ideas. I shall have to do that in the future.

Eileen Goudge said...

Great piece, Rick. I used to carry a notebook for jotting down ideas, but it got to be too cumbersome. In the digital age, it's easier to do a voice memo on my phone. Or just sit and wait to see which ideas trickle from head to paper. The old toss spaghetti at the wall trick.