The Incubator and Other Tools

I’ve read some recent advice warning writers against being too precious about stray ideas. It’s not bad advice. Too precious implies building castles around every bit and bob hastily written on a napkin at dinner or on a cough drop wrapper in the dead of night. Some go so far as to counsel tossing those scraps of paper and ink, because good ideas will never really leave your brain, and sometimes they’ll grow into great ideas.

Texts, emails, and online notepads have replaced many of my paper napkins and other scraps, or at least digitized and organized them. My computer has a folder titled Ideas, Mixed, where all these tidbits end up until they’re used. I find it enormously helpful. Sometimes my mind will have incubated ideas captured long ago, but I won’t have ready access to the result. Maybe I’m the only one.

My memory is not great. Among my family of origin, I am known to have a Swiss-cheese memory: some really strong memories and lots of holes. I recall the thinnest slices of my early childhood all the way through about tenth grade. These memories swim by swiftly, somewhat out of reach, leaving impressions of colors, smells, feelings, and sounds. And yet some selection of memories that are every ounce as banal as the rest sit right on the surface for me to examine as I please. Those are far fewer, though as bright.

I was a history student in college, and I had no mind for numbers, including dates. From reading it on the page to saying it aloud, I’d muddle the numbers, inevitably getting things out of order. Law school did not correct this flaw, only making me more frightened than ever to reveal it.

Even now, I often lose track of names I’ve known for a decade or more. I have trouble finding my words, and my husband keeps me honest about it. These are not new traits, nor do they seem progressive. I’m not sure that I haven’t always been this way.

I write in Scrivener, which is nothing short of a miracle. I can add copious notes that future me will require as context, metadata, and a thousand other things flowing slightly below the surface of a story. I can easily move between character files, location files, and scenes. I can organize it however makes sense. I must always write with an active timeline within the story, even if the reader will never know the date. In Scrivener, I typically label my scenes with their date and/or the day +/- the first day of the book. I adore having these tools.

Casting my snippets of overheard conversation and random odd word combinations or other ideas into a digital folder is another tool. I go visit them occasionally, and some get folded into my work-in-progress. Others rest, incubating, until I know what to do with them.

There are going to be tools that you use, for a season or forever. If they help do the work, keep them. If they hinder the work–by obfuscating your current task or whatever–then drop them.

Tools were made for writers, not writers for tools.


The Reinvention of Me: Killing My Prisoner of War

If you’re new to this blog you might wonder about reinvention, my theme for 2016. For me, reinvention is a journey of self discovery that I don’t think I really understood when I decided the theme. Reinvention is not a look at the things healthfully working in my life but at the broken pieces; after all, that which works needs refinement rather than reinvention (I sense a theme for 2017…).

Reinvention is also a reckoning of the estranged pieces of my life and consciousness so that I can regain unity within myself.

Wow. That sounds dramatic! Though if I’m honest, it has been dramatic. I won’t rehash here the reinventions, but you can go read some of them in the archives.

I’ve held a prisoner of war for many long and haggard years. The war is with the brothers Success and Failure. My POW plays both sides, or has played both sides. What I realized quite on accident: I am not at war with Success OR Failure. They aren’t nations or planes of existence but tools. And I need both.

Who is this prisoner? Her name is Perfection and she exudes a cocktail of frenzy mixed with hesitation and shaken with absolutes. I call her my prisoner, but in truth I have behaved as her prisoner. No more.

I could let her go. Strictly speaking, she lacks the form and personage of mercy. She must die.

But how? Not as quickly or surgically as I’d like. Unfortunately, Perfection carries immunity to fast, total, easy termination. [Note: I’ve never killed an actual body, just words with capitalized names and pretend people in my stories. Some of those seem to host antibodies to removal, too. If you are a person-killer, don’t tell me if it’s the same with persons because then I’d have to notify the authorities and, I mean, I’d do it, but…Alas! say what you must, person-killer-reader.]

Focus, Amanda. Okay. Perfection, she is a perfect little…Wait. That’s not back on track. What was I saying?

Oh, yes, the long, torturous killing of Perfection. [Spoiler: I can’t actually kill Perfection for you. Or you. Or you over there. It’s like a nine-lives thing, only infinite.]

Perfection has done me no favors. I’m not even sure Perfection has been minimally effective. She has kept me from moving forward and kept me holding back. She has undermined my intelligence, my education, and my experience. She has restricted my writing and my art. She tells me – constantly – that I’m a fraud and if I don’t do her bidding then everybody will know.

It sounds like I’m her prisoner, doesn’t it? But I’m not. I know I’m not because I am the one with the power. She is the one at my mercy. But guess what? There are no Geneva Conventions for this kind of prisoner.

Something I started last year is a serialized novel called The Right to Be Forgotten. It started as an experiment – what if I just wrote a portion and posted it and wrote from that base each time? I recently reread the whole thing, and I was shocked how much I enjoyed it. That’s when I figured out that I could make-and-release as a weapon against Perfection. When I write and retain, which I do often, Perfection whispers things to me that have me doubting and overthinking and hesitating.

I’m still working on a way to kill Perfection in my art and writing, but I think the practice of make-and-release increases my power.

The Right to Be Forgotten will be (has been) continued. And I started a new serialization on my Patreon account for patrons (of which there is one). That story is called Stab/Slab and it’s a dark comedy about a mob based out of a funeral home. You can read the first installation here.

You decide whether the make-and-release method is working for me to kill Perfection and revive authenticity with strong storytelling.

Bye-bye, Perfection, your last meal has been consumed.

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