Monday, April 14, 2014

The Act of Writing


I’ve always been an inveterate list-maker. Maybe it’s because list-making reduces my stress. Or maybe it’s because I have to write things down in order to believe they are real.

About twenty years ago, I was undergoing a particularly stressful time.  I was in the throes of changing jobs, moving to a new state, selling my house and buying a new one, hunting for a new school for my daughter, and saying goodbye to friends. There was a lot to do. My lists were long, and getting longer.

No matter how diligently I wrote everything I had to do on my ever-growing lists, I was haunted by the feeling that there was something I was forgetting. I was sure it was an important something.

But the only time I remembered what that something was, was when I was asleep. Nearly every night I’d have the same dream – I dreamt I remembered the something. I would wake up, breathe a sigh of relief, and go back to sleep.

The next mornings I remembered having the dream, remembered waking up, remembered the relief -- but I never remembered the “something” itself.

This cycle repeated three, four, sometimes five times a week for two or three months. I spent many of my waking moments trying to remember my dreams or figure out what the something was that I was forgetting.

Finally one night when I woke up after the dream, I got out of bed, stumbled across the room to my desk, and scribbled “the something” down on a scrap of paper, making a list. Then I stumbled back to bed and fell back to sleep.

In the morning when I awoke, again I remembered the dream, remembered waking up, and still did not remember the something. Ah, but that didn’t matter now! I had written it down on a list! Saved at last! I scampered over to my desk, excited and filled with curiosity about what I would find. 

This is what my list said: 

Needles
Flint

???? To this day I have not figured out what those words meant. I do not know what my subconscious was trying to tell me. Maybe it was just playing a joke on my conscious mind – you know, kind of a “gotcha.” But the really interesting thing is that from that time onward, my feeling of having forgotten something important went away and never came back.


I have come to believe that the point of this story is that what you write is not as important as the act of writing.
Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit Primary-Sources.com.

13 comments :

  1. I make lists, put them in a safe place, and rarely see them again. Sometimes what was on them sticks in my mind, which seems to confirm your thought that the act of writing is more important than what is written—in my case because that act apparently commits content to memory, at least in the case of the lists.

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  2. I used to keep a scrap of paper and pencil beside my bed for recording late-night ideas. When I married, turning a light on in the middle of the night was no longer a suitable option, so I switched to keeping a proper notebook and using the Morning Pages system to record any ideas first thing when I woke up. Then, when I had a curious toddler investigating my stuff, those notebooks had to find a different home. So, now, I rely on my memory - and I've actually found it's pretty good. I've even "written" whole chapters in my head while stuck in bed with my younger child. Nothing like exercising the "little grey cells" ;-)

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    1. Kudos to you for being able to remember. I never can, so even when my kids were young if an idea hit me at night, I would get up and write. Sometimes I would go back to bed just a couple of hours before the little darlings were up for the day. Oh, the stamina I had back then. :-)

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    2. When my daughter was 5 she found one of my morning pages notebooks and illustrated it with her crayons. I still have this notebook and cannot bear to throw it away.

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  3. I rationalize by telling myself "if it was important, you'll remember". I don't get many plot/story ideas at night, but during my waking hours they go on post its and get added to my "idea board"

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  4. I keep Moleskine notebooks in each room of the house, with dedicated pens, so I can always record ideas and snippets of inspiration wherever I am. There's one beside my bed, with a pen that lights up when the end is clicked.
    As for the act of writing, I agree, Kim. And what's more, I always feel physically better when I'm in the process of creating some new writing. That act of putting the words on paper (on screen) is somehow beneficial to the body as well as the spirit. Thanks for this piece.

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    1. Nowadays I have 3x5 inch notebooks scattered around my house too. They're cheap, though, not moleskin. (Yours aren't made from real moles are they?)

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  5. On another note, I recall a similar story about a man who put the pad of paper by his bed and he had a dream about something that would be the answer to all the world's questions/problems, etc. He woke up the next morning and saw that he had written "cottage cheese."

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    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one with strange beings inside my head. Cottage cheese seems as good an answer as any, though.

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  6. Needles and flint ... buttons and lint ... chocolate and mint ... I think we have a song going here!

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  7. I did not see "writing" on your list. Perhaps it was your muses plaguing your dreams so you'd rememebr them. :)

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    1. Those darn Muses, such sneaky little guys.

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  8. Hahaha...Great story. I used to have TMJ, Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, from grinding my jaw at night. My jaw hurt constantly. A doctor suggested I write down every single to-do item, so I wouldn't stress about remembering them. Later, I limited my calendar to three major items a day, so I wouldn't stress about having too much to do. The TMJ didn't completely go away until I broke up with my last boyfriend - I haven't had jaw pain since, and I'm happily married now. I still make the lists, and they do help: once it's on the calendar, I don't worry about it until I get there.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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