Idea filing: what do I do with the ideas I can’t work on right now

If you are like me, you get a ton of ideas for new projects. Often, you get them while you are working on a new project. These new ideas are exciting and wonderful, and I feel like I need to do something to retain them.

Now, I’m no Sherlock, so I don’t have a Mind Palace. When I get an idea, its important that I record it, that I write it down somewhere to make sure that I don’t use it. I have two methods for this:

  1. I keep a notebook in my back pocket, and a pen in my breast pocket. All the time. The point is, to stop and write down an idea, whenever it strikes. I have, a few times, thought to myself that I would be able to wait, and that the idea would still be there later. But every time, I’ve been wrong. So I have to write down the idea when it strikes.
  2. I use a web app called Springpad to catalogue my ideas, and take notes. I like this app, because its on the web and has native apps available for smart phones, which allows me to have access to my Springpad account at all times, even when offline.  With Springpad, I can collect links that inspire ideas, and research.

SpringpadThe notebook is for quickly jotted notes. Details are for Springpad. I transfer ideas from the notebook to Springpad, for reference when I’m working. I like springpad because its easy to add a note from a link. I get ideas from articles online all the time, so its nice to be able to save the link in Springpad, and start taking notes on my ideas right, and as I find more links and get more ideas, I can continue to add notes and ideas, allowing me to collect and catalogue thoughts and ideas and to grow them into actual writing projects.

How do you catalogue your ideas?


Where do ideas come from?

I  sometimes get this question.  I am told that some writers hate this question, but I don’t mind it. I’ve always been enamoured of Neil Gaiman’s answer to this question:

You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.

I love this. I get ideas all the time, and I write them down in a notebook as quickly as possible. I’ve learned from experience, that if I don’t, I will forget the idea.  I have had some amazing ideas in my time, and before I started carrying a notebook, I forgot them entirely because I didn’t write them down.

I get ideas from all kinds of things. I get ideas by listening. I hear a comment or a sentence spoken in passing, and I think “that’s interesting”. So I write it down. I follow interesting blogs on my RSS Feeds, and I sometimes get ideas from things I see there. I think its a good idea to follow interesting blogs. To follow tumblr blogs and pinterest feeds if the content is interesting. Anything interesting can be inspirational. But the most important thing is, an Neil Gaiman says, to be aware of when you’re having an idea.

Most everyone has great ideas. The trick is to do something with it.

Do you remember the last kick-ass idea you had? What did you do with it?

An Evolving Monologue, Pt. 3

The last version of this speech was far too expository to be of any use. It was more like a history lesson than something a character might say. While the last line of the speech is intact (Yes, he bores me. And that is something I can never forgive), it isn’t elaborated on in this speech, but it did inform other interactions in the scene. For this version of the speech, some of the history of the Ruben/Vera relationship remains, but there’s less detail. Vera isn’t a character that would go into that kind of detail with these people.

I did still feel, however, that she needed to be understood. To have someone understand what she’s been through with this man.

Again, Lola says: “what gives her the right to be such a miserable bitch? She just waltzes in here, insults everybody and then waltzes out and we’re just supposed to let her?”

“You think that I am a heartless bitch, who always gets what I want. You think I’m unfair in the way that I speak to my husband, that I am dismissive and unfairly cruel to him. And yet, you know so very little of him. Perhaps if you knew what I know, you would see things differently.

“Look at him. Look at this man who you are so concerned about. What do you know of him? Would it surprise you to know that he is singularly self interested, with adolescent tendencies? That he is unreliable, and emotionally immature? I suppose none of those things would surprise anyone here.

“How did a man like this become Prime Minister? Or even leader of a party? Simple. My father and his father. His a mover and shaker, mine a king maker. And somewhere along the way, they decided they wanted a dynasty, and so it was arranged that I would marry Ruben. I was against it, of course, on principle. I accused my father of living in the dark ages, and refused to even consider it. And then I met Ruben. He was very charming. And he was uncomplicated. I saw so much potential in him.

“Leadership of the party was ordained for him, once Pearson Thomson retired. And finally the day came, and leadership was handed to him, fulfilling the dreams of our fathers, did he take it seriously? No he did not. Since party leadership was ordained for him, why not the Prime Minister-ship as well. Why work at a thing when it is preordained? When it will be handed to you. Ruben would have squandered the opportunity if he had not been surrounded by competent people who could get the job done.

“I hoped, beyond all hope, that Ruben would live up to the potential our fathers saw in him. That he would rise to the occasion. But alas, you see what happened. I tried to encourage him. To push him. But you see the good that did. Ruben was never one for taking advice. He avoided me.  He stayed out at all hours, claiming that he was working. I suspected that he was having an affair, but that relieved me more than anything, since I had long since tired of having him in my bed, and as long as he was discrete about the whole thing, and didn’t embarrass me, I could live with it. But I still believed that if he became Prime Minister, he might live up to his potential.

“But he didn’t. He squandered that too. And when his infidelity was revealed, when he was exposed with you in all the papers, when my shame was made public, when I was humiliated like that in all the papers, I finally realized that this man would never be anything other than he was. A clown, a fool, a bumbler. A bore. Yes, he bores me. And that is something I can never forgive.”

Now this sounds like Vera. Now I feel like I know a little more about her. We know a bit about how she came to be married to Ruben, and more about how she has felt about him and their situation. And more importantly, it sounds like Vera. It sounds right for her. I’m more satisfied with this speech than I have been throughout the process.

An evolving Monologue, Pt. 1

Talking about the evolution of The Parliamentarians as a I have been, I thought it might be interesting to look at the evolution of a monologue that appears in the play.

Vera, the Prime Minister’s wife, is a very strong personality. With the second iteration of the play, where I first separated the acts by three months (covered in this post), Vera was introduced as a character. This is the first run at the monologue she has in the second act. At this point in the play, after watching Vera bring to bear her malice and insults on Ruben, Lola can’t take it anymore and forcefully questions Vera. “How dare you speak to your husband this way”, Lola says.  And Vera replies.

“You want to know the truth. You want to know why I so enjoy emasculating this man? If you had spent any time married to him, you might have some idea. But since you never spent any more than an hour or two, then let me give you an idea. You have plans with your husband, but he’s late. That’s fine, he’s in politics and sometimes they require extra time. But of course, if he’s going to be late, he’ll call won’t he? Certainly he will. And so you wait. And you wait. But he doesn’t call. And so you call him. And you call him. And you call him. And this goes on. Night after night, month after month. Until you grow resigned to the fact that he’s avoiding you. That he wants you around only when his job requires it. That you are a prop for his latest photo opportunity. Its true that the spark went out of your marriage years ago, but you would have thought that as he ascended to the top of his party and went on to become Prime Minister that he might at some point remember that at one time he loved you and that he might chose to share his success with you. But no, he doesn’t. Instead he continues to avoid you. And when he does come home, you think that you might be able to try and reach out, but as soon as he walks in the door, and he looks past you, never at you, then all thoughts of reconciliation fly out the window, and all you want to do is hurt him. And so you yell, and throw dishes, and drive him further away.

“But at least shame is private. Your husband is in politics and politics is a demanding mistress. So that is what you tell your friends. You tell them that your husband is busy, and that’s why he can’t be with you tonight. Or the time before that. Or the time before that.

“And then, one day you wake and find his infidelity is front page news. And everyone knows the truth. You’re humiliated. And everyone knows it.”

After hearing the speech the first time it was read, I knew immediately that this was wrong for the character. In this speech, Vera seems to be making herself the victim in her relationship with her husband, and if there is anything that Vera is not, it is a victim. This is a moment of pity for a character that does not ask for it, or want it. And it softens her. The actors at that first informal read through all agreed. Vera did not need our pity. She needed Lola to understand.

And so I set about working on the monologue again, to try and what Vera really wanted to say.

Tracing the growth of a play from draft to “finished”, Pt. 3

At the end of part 2, I had just had a group of actors read The Parliamentarians, and give some feedback. In addition to some tweaks and fixing moments that weren’t working, the question of what to do with Benji Collins arose. I was trying to figure out if the character did enough, if he drove the action enough to remain in. If he was too passive,or if he didn’t serve enough of a purpose, I’d remove him. But I wasn’t sure. The actors who read the play certainly enjoyed him, but I wasn’t sure if he did enough. He did provide an important realization for Lola near the end of the act, but I wondered if that was enough to justify keeping him. Was there another way that Lola could reach that  realization without Benji being there?

In the end, like the change to the timeline, I resolved that the only way to find out for sure would be to write it. And so I did. And it worked. Without Benji, the realization Lola needed could be incited by Vera. And so, Benji was removed, leaving me with the following characters:

Ruben Holloway, Prime Minister
Perkins, his Chief of Staff
Lola, a call girl
Stephanie Rivers, Leader of the opposition
Vera Holloway, Ruben’s wife

The play worked even better. With Benji gone, there were fewer characters to introduce, and we could spend more time with the characters and learn more about them.

To be sure, I had the same actors come back (less one) and read the play again. And it worked. Again, there were some moments that still needed work, but no major structural changes were needed. The play was working.

And that’s where I’m at now. I’m working on the moments that aren’t working and fixing them. And soon, I will have a “final” draft.

One of the interesting things about this process has been the experimental writing (ie: “I’m not sure this will work, let me try it and find out”). A long time ago, I might have considered that wasted time. If it didn’t work and I had to revert to an earlier version, would I have wasted the time in writing it. In the end, I think that none of the writing would be wasted. Once done, even if I didn’t end up using it, I would have learned something about the characters that could be used later. All of the drafts provided some information about the characters that allowed me to write them more fully as I progressed.

I’m quite happy with the play as it is shaping up, and can’t wait to have it performed.