by Robert Lopresti
A few nights ago I was having a typically pointless dream -- something
about listening to the Star Spangled Banner at a golf tournament, if
you must know -- when suddenly things shifted and I had a story idea.
I mean I dreamed I had one, but also I really did. And then the alarm went off.
I'm sure you have had the experience of percolating a brilliant idea in your
sleep, only to see it vanish when you wake. You may have also had that
experience's more humbling twin: remembering
the dazzling insight and realizing it was nothing of the kind. One
night in college I scrambled for a notebook at 3 AM and write down my
lightbulb flash. In the morning I found that notebook page and read, quote:
So far, I have not found a way to monetize that flash of genius.
But getting back to my recent experience, when the alarm went off I was
still in possession of the story idea, and, to repeat, it really was a story idea. Which meant that the clock was ticking.
From the moment you have an idea you have seventeen minutes to do something with it. If not, you lose it. I can't find those words on the Internet, so maybe I have it garbled, but I find it good advice anyway.
Write it down. Hum it. Tie a string around your finger. Do something
physical to get that elusive thought into a second part of your brain.
Seventeen minutes. The clock is ticking.
My father, by the way, had his own way of dealing with this. When he
was at work and needed to remember something he would tear off a sliver
of paper and put it in his shirt pocket. When he got home he would
find the scrap and remember why he had put it there. I know that if I
tried that I wouldn't even remember that there had been a reason. "What the hell is this here for?" I would say before carefully dropping the reminder into the recycling bin.
And speaking of remembering things, we were talking about my recent
morning. It would have been great if I could have turned on a light
and written down my idea immediately, but my wife, long-suffering as
she, would not have been pleased to have her last half-hour of sleep
interrupted. Besides, my audience was waiting for me.
You see, we have cats. Six thousand of them.
All right, really there are just four. I like to say that we have two
pet cats and each of them has one pet cat. Share the guilt.
But my first duty when I stagger out of bed is to fill two water bowls,
one dry food bowl, and three wet food plates, scattered on two floors.
All the time I was opening cans and bags I was trying to keep my story
idea front and center in my skull (fortunately feeding the beasts doesn't require a lot of intellectual activity).
When all the critters were temporarily sated I was at last able to sit
down with a pen and notebook and write down what i had: the title, the
premise and the last sentence. Now all I need to do is grow a plot
around those three points. It may happen; it may not. But by God, I
didn't lose this one.
Have any stories about saving/losing ideas, especially in the early hours? Put 'em in the comments.
Oh, from top to bottom: Jaffa with friend, Blackie, Chloe, and Charlie.