Mini Essays aka Thoughts on stuff that seem out of place in my blog…
My first couple of “mini essays” (sort of) are kinda unusual; and, admittedly, not that cool. They’re just thoughts that are a bit related to writing. Some casual discussion in my weekly writer’s group (it’s not a typical writer’s group; it’s four friends who happen to be writers, meet each week, and talk about various & sundry with a lot of writing talk thrown in) got me thinking on both subjects and I idly scratched down some thoughts that I hope might be worthwhile to a few of you.
Memory & Wonder
Only an infinitesimal few have a memory like Sheldon Cooper. Most of us forget stuff. However, I think that an unreliable memory can be improved. I believe that a key in doing so is to find more things more interesting.
By interesting, I don’t mean in an intellectual or academic way. I’m not talking about Mr. Spock’s “fascinating”. I mean interesting to our sense of wonder, or joy, or possibility. As we get older, those emotional responses are increasingly reserved for truly novel moments. But we still have them, and when we do, the thing that sparked it is seared into our memory.
Think about it: every one of you reading this can recall the lyrics, unerringly or very nearly so, of most or all of your favorite songs; at least, those songs that really move you emotionally, which is usually the same thing. Ok, sure, maybe you’ve listened to your favorite songs umpteen thousand times, but I bet you could sing along by the second or third time if the song really moved you in some way. Similarly, anyone reading this can cite lines, often verbatim, from many of your favorite tv shows and movies. Readers of this being readers generally, I expect the same holds true for bits from favorite books.
The usual reasons offered — melody and rhythm, the visual media, repetition — are sometimes and to some degree at work but are inadequate explanations.
The explanation, I believe, is mostly this: you remember because those things are sufficiently interesting to you in a very non-Spock-like way. They stuck. No particular effort on your part required.
We may forget things we want to remember: details of a place we’ve visited that would serve wonderfully to enhance a setting for our book, a bit of dialogue that pops into our head and would succinctly flesh out our character in a more fun and full fashion than the paragraphs of exposition we spent on the effort, a clever title, etc. …Ok, those are all writing related examples, but only because they popped into my head. The point applies in all areas of life.
We might also forget what we feel we really need to remember: subject matter for a test, an important personal engagement, the date of, or details concerning, a consequential interview, and so on.
However, we almost never forget what we truly find interesting in the sense that I’ve described.
So, to improve your memory, get enthused about things! Stoke your passion on things large and small. Try and remember the wonder in things, the wonder of discovery. Watch young children. They’re masters of wonder. It is not a mere coincidence that they are also sponges of knowledge.
In my experience, ideas for books are not quite as common as thoughts but certainly more common than moods. They pop up all the time, unbidden. Most are discarded; usually, not for being found wanting, but just for want of time to actually do anything with them.
Yet, the most common question most writers get is: “where do you get your ideas from?”
While there are exceptions — good writers for whom ideas are relatively few and painstakingly nurtured when they do come — most writers… well, most story-tellers, which is the foundation, have a ready surplus of ideas.
But if you don’t, or if you feel your ideas don’t excite your imagination enough to galvanize a few hundred pages of exploration, what can you do about it?
When imagination or lateral thinking is required, you often hear “think outside the box”. The general sentiment is nice. But truthfully, we all live — and always will live — in our mental boxes. It’s the nature of the mind. However, the box itself has possibilities.
You can change your box.
You can expand the walls of your box.
That’s what you do to kick up ideas. The bigger your box, the more ideas will take up residence — or at least drop in for tea and crumpets.
The how of it is simple:
Read. Read anything and everything.
Experience. Have experiences that are new.
Revisit things you’ve perhaps tried at some point in the past, found them not to your liking, and swore off. We are the sum total of our memories, those being the sum total of our thoughts and experiences. The you that tries an experience you didn’t like yesterday is not entirely the same you trying that same experience tomorrow. Tomorrow-you may very well disagree with yester-you. Be open to that possibility.
The product of all the reading and experiencing is a bigger box. You’d be astonished just how big that box can get — and the bigger it gets, interestingly, the more crowded it gets. The sky is the limit.