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Weekly Wrap: Our Unfinished Brilliance

by Susan Henderson on November 24, 2006

Write down every idea before it’s gone. Use the backs of envelopes and gas receipts if you’re driving. On one of those slips is your breakout story:

Amputee obsessively sharpens pencils with his phantom arm.

Girl impresses boy by eating frozen guacamole with her hair barrette.

Mother dances salsa in front of the mirror in a stolen dress.

Suicidal student has habit of sucking on pennies she finds on the street.

Kid sits under basement stairs in a suitcase, watching an unplugged TV set. (Put it in third person so people don’t know it’s you.)

If you don’t write it down, you’ll waste your gift.

I drive with a pen between my teeth, holding the paper against the steering wheel when I write. Never mind the honking. I roll the windows up or the hundreds of story ideas littering the passenger seat will blow onto the highway, and then someone else might write my breakout story.

This blog post is now over at FRESH YARN.

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Thanks to those of you who answered the question of the week: PD, who tried another writer’s idea of using post-it notes, but couldn’t keep track of them so goes for a pocket-sized notebook; Katrina, who uses a legal pad; Andy, who keeps a good four half-finished books on the backburner (me, too!) and lets the ideas mount up; Ellen, who stores her ideas in her porous and forgetful mind; Sarah, who carries a number of themed notebooks with her (geek!); Aimee, who still has an idea notebook she started in high school and uses snippets for inspiration; Lance, who records his random thoughts in Moleskine notebooks but also tacks ideas, torn pictures from magazines and index cards all over his “idea walls”; Paula, who can work with lists but finds snippets to be incoherent or ridiculous and melodramatic; Lori, who keeps a pencil and pad by the bed and fills spiral notebooks with random thoughts, character traits and settings (me, too, Lori); Robin, who is blessed with a Gaiman-signed Moleskine and also uses elementary composition books; Carolyn, who uses a pocket PC to record story ideas, good titles, and other scraps; Tish, whose post-it notes are stuck to the base of her computer screen; Amy, who has a box of half-full notebooks beside her desk and prefers those Clairefontaine notebooks with grids and colored pages; Dennis, who treated us to a poem about the snippets we’ll hate in the morning (Hey, Dennis, if you’re interested in La Brea, Amy Wilentz talks about it a lot in her new book); Claire, who uses her blog for snippets (good one!), where she tries to expand them into full ideas; Lauren, who says, “It’s all here somewhere”; Anneliese, who has a fancy orange silk Moleskine with a pocket in the back and who alerted me to a great interview with Janet Fitch ( http://www.drinkswithtony.com/janetfitch.html ); Shelley, who used some several year old snippets just recently; Noria, who writes her snippets right in her appointment book so they get used; Gail, who uses my method of having them on every receipt and envelope and check stub; Mark, who likes to get his large idea first so the he has a place to put all of the snippets that come along (oh, if only my brain could operate this way); Juliet, who needs to post a link to her book launch information (Congratulations!); Joe, who writes ideas down on everything, including parking tickets, and never throws them away (p.s., I think it gets way easier); Ric, who’s filled two filing cabinet drawers with journals and also goes for the blue (shorter) legal pads; Darrin, who calls snippets “those restless orphans” and wonders if he’ll ever find homes for them all; Jordan, who can keep the information straight in her head, but once she extracts a snippet, panics about which category, which story, which notebook; and Aurelio, whose lower desk drawer is stuffed with story concepts, book titles, overhead conversations, and doodles. Thanks to everyone who played. And a big thank you to the talented and deadly-handsome Cameron McGill for the words and the music!

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The fabulous Lance Reynald will be here tomorrow with SUSPENSION author, Robert Westfield. Join the fun!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Robin Slick November 24, 2006 at 3:01 pm

Sue, this is my all time favorite of your Lit Park columns. Maybe because it’s because of how much I relate — I especially love this line:

“I promise myself not to miss his growing up, not to let this writing make me distracted and self-centered.”

Oh, how I struggle with that still, and my kids are 19 and 20. I printed out a chapter yesterday — on Thanksgiving! — and as I was reading it over and pulling my hair out over errors, my kids were talking to me and I had to stop myself from snarling, “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

In all fairness, Eric was text messaging for like an hour and Julie was cooking so I thought I had down time…but still…it was Thanksgiving and later that night, I wept at the thought that hey, this could be our last Thanksgiving together, you never know…next year they could be in Japan or LA or who knows where…and I’ve already outlived my own mother by many years…I need to treasure every moment with my family and be alert and not living in fantasy land writing in my head on the now rare occasions we are all at home together.

Anyway, what a beautiful, moving piece of writing.

And I especially liked knowing that I’ve read stories of yours containing some of the phrases you’ve almost gotten in car crashes over…your story about the student with the pennies in her mouth will stay with me forever. You should post links!

Happy Black Friday…

xo
Rob

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Lance Reynald November 24, 2006 at 4:07 pm

😉
that column looks like a breakoout novel!!

love this snippet, no need to dig into why.

proof positive that you are indeed a writer. (though I am fascinated that you’re still even considering getting to have sex; Sex is for rockstars…yearning is for writers) 😉

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Julie Ann Shapiro November 24, 2006 at 6:48 pm

Hi Susan,
What a beautiful post. I read this and want to jump up and applaud and cry and salute you and all us writing in between everything else that is trying to distract us. I don’t know how you do it with an adorable family. I just have my husband and the job and some social things that compete and know that I couldn’t possibly do it all with kids. I barely feel like I do it all now. As it I want more and more writing time. Somehow I manage to write most days two or three hours and find little bits of time to dash away ideas for future writing sessions. Like when I’m working on my publisher’s book now…no I didn’t get some big book deal not yet…it’s just a cool job working for a publisher. When I get a great story idea at work I log off a few minutes and write down the idea afraid I’ll lose it if I don’t. And while I work I’ll be thinking about that idea in the back of my mind until I return again to that feverish time to just write and write and forget about the clock, the world around me where everything else trickles away but the story, the story that must be written.

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Julie Ann Shapiro November 24, 2006 at 6:48 pm

Hi Susan,
What a beautiful post. I read this and want to jump up and applaud and cry and salute you and all us writing in between everything else that is trying to distract us. I don’t know how you do it with an adorable family. I just have my husband and the job and some social things that compete and know that I couldn’t possibly do it all with kids. I barely feel like I do it all now. As it I want more and more writing time. Somehow I manage to write most days two or three hours and find little bits of time to dash away ideas for future writing sessions. Like when I’m working on my publisher’s book now…no I didn’t get some big book deal not yet…it’s just a cool job working for a publisher. When I get a great story idea at work I log off a few minutes and write down the idea afraid I’ll lose it if I don’t. And while I work I’ll be thinking about that idea in the back of my mind until I return again to that feverish time to just write and write and forget about the clock, the world around me where everything else trickles away but the story, the story that must be written.

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Carolyn November 24, 2006 at 6:55 pm

Ah, Susan. The honesty in this column makes you so transparent I can see all the way to your heart.

I am with Robin on this line:

“I promise myself not to miss his growing up, not to let this writing make me distracted and self-centered.”

My kids are 17 & 19 and I remember well those days when I’d tuck my little son into bed and run my fingers across his cheek, musing that one day it would have whiskers just like his daddy. And the day my daughter started her period at school and called me to bring her some feminine protection.

These are all scraps of my memory, whether they’re written in my PC folder or cherished in my heart. They are unforgetable moment. It’s these and other memories of our combined lives that surprise me when I’m writing.

Lance, too, got it right in saying this column could be your breakout novel. But finish your current work first.

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Sarah Roundell November 24, 2006 at 8:48 pm

Excellent writing, Susan, and as per usual the weekly wrap ties us all together in such a nice package despite our differences. I’m amazed at those at the park who use fancy notebooks for their writing as I have a beautiful sun notebook, an Andy Warhol journal, and a handmade sketchbook and I just can’t bring myself to spoil them with my random thoughts. The interview with Cameron was excellent and I really enjoyed Ellen’s interview with her daughter. For some reason the comments I posted disappeared into the internet somewhere. Looking forward to Lance tomorrow!

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Gail November 25, 2006 at 2:50 pm

This is a very touching piece – essay if you like. I loved reading it, recognizing the familiar and appreciating the unique of who you are.

Stories worth crashing the car for, I guess that’s what we all want, though we often end up crashing the family, or into people, instead.

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Susan Henderson November 25, 2006 at 3:43 pm

Robin – I was writing on Thanksgiving, too. Can you send me a reminder about Cameron? I’ll get you two in touch later today.

Lance – Ha! Wondertwins, we are. I always prefer yearning for something than having it. Except the book deal thing. The yearning got old.

Julie – You describe well all the various pots cooking on the stove at the same time. Maybe you agree with this, but I suspect if we weren’t all busy with our relationships and our lives and had 100% of each day to write, we wouldn’t have any of those great ideas. I think there’s something about having our mind focused elsewhere that sparks the ideas in the first place.

Carolyn – Don’t worry, I’m like a maniac about finishing this current novel. It’s so close I can see the finish line.

Sarah – I’m really sorry to know your comments are disappearing. Every now and then comments get stuck in the spam filter, but I checked for yours there and couldn’t find any. Let me know if this happens again and I can talk to my amazing webmaster and see if he knows how to fix the problem.

Gail – I think you’re right about who crashes. I always think of my writing as a heroin addiction. It has more control of me than I have of it.

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Mary Akers November 30, 2006 at 9:57 pm

Ah, what a wonderful piece of writing. When did I stop living my life so I could write about it? Indeed. I think this is my favorite piece, too. Touched me, totally.

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Susan Henderson December 1, 2006 at 2:10 pm

You’re sweet, Mary. Thank you.

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