Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

The Serendipity of Surprise or the Art of Capturing Ideas


ideas (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

As a writer I don’t do journals, although I jot ideas down on sticky notes and plaster them all over the place.  A journal probably would be a more organized way of keeping these bits together; however, it’s like finding a forgotten treasure when I come across one of these yellow bits stuck inside my purse,  a book, or my bedside drawer.  The serendipity of surprise is one reason this haphazard method is one I keep hanging onto.   I am a highly organized person, so go figure why I elect not to corral my ideas all tidy-like in one place.  That’s it–I don’t want to pen up my ideas, choosing to momentarily capture them until I can tame them into proper writing. Journals haven’t worked for me.  I am a bit of a hypocrite since I urge my creative writing students to keep a journal for class.  Ssh, don’t tell them I am not doing as I am saying.

I did keep a journal once, for about six months.  The tedium of writing my thoughts down on a daily basis wore on me like the nagging need to exercise.  Seeing that spiral bound notebook reminder me I had to complete an entry for the day. Ideas, sensing the need to appear scuttled away into my cerebral crooks and crannies.  I abandoned the process after about three months.  Recently when decluttering my bedside shelf I came across the journal  and began reading.  What drizzle!  I tore out the pages and now have a notebook that’s one-third free for better purposes like to-do lists.  Story ideas tend to sneak up on me in the least likely moments and I find I must quickly net them before they evaporate. My net of choice are sticky notes.  Capture ideas–yes, tame? Not really.  My best ideas creep up on my brain while I doze and twitch and tease like the Cheshire’s cat’s smile, winking and blinking tormenting me to wake up and quickly try to set them down on paper.

A Post-it note is a piece of stationery with a...

A Post-it note is a piece of stationery with a re-adherable strip of adhesive on the back, designed for temporarily attaching notes to documents and other surfaces. Although now available in a wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes, Post-it notes are most commonly a 3-inch (76 mm) square, canary yellow in color. A unique low-tack adhesive allows the notes to be easily attached and removed without leaving marks or residue, unless used on white boards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The dilemma becomes whether I wake and write down the idea thus cease my napping, or hope the idea lingers long enough upon waking to render it upon my handy stash of Post-Its.  Usually, like the final etchings of the sun’s rays upon the horizon, I barely catch the idea as it balances between the my slumbering and awakening consciousness.Most of the time the ideas seemed so loomingly real and lucid I have every confidence they will walk themselves out of my id onto my laptop and flip over to revel their bellies in submission.  Not so.  These ideas only appear to be in submission, they usually scamper away like coquettish kittens around the corner only to tease me with their presence.  If I’m lucky I manage to procure one or two meaningful words or even a sentence before the complete idea vanishes into wisps of wakefulness.

Once, I dreamed an entire story about dealing with circular logic.  I raced down to my computer and typed it out.  With only the slightest of revisions it became a story which Highlights for Children published and Boyds Mills Press  later included it in one of their anthologies.  Getting a dream story down in its entirety doesn’t happen often; in fact, I think that was the only time I managed to get the story placed from dream to page before it lasped away into the mists of wakefulness once again.

Here are is a partial collection of Serendipity Surprises I found recently:

  • timeless birthday, doorbell, grandma–this one came to me while out walking and it had something to be with a Bradburian idea of a woman who seemingly lives on forever (a birthday wish fulfilled?) and smiles when she hears a background trumpet (a birthday tribute or the Rapture?)  I think the story appeared better in my brain than in my outline
  • ten minute tidbits–we have a lot of construction stops going on that hinder the daily progress of life and I thought this could be an article about how to best spend those stretched out moments of waiting. (I have a harmonica in my glove compartment for those times in hopes I will one day become harp proficient).
  • a funny thing happened on the way to the library–a recount of my interesting career of applying for the head librarian position at our school’s library and how I ended up becoming a teacher due to the state’s requirement all school librarians must have a teaching certificate (and with all the budget cuts in place this is no longer true, but hey, I have discovered that I love teaching–and some days I actually like it)

I have an entire folder filled with sticky note captures.  Now if I could only find enough time to sit down and shape these mind meanderings into meaningful prose and poetry. I imagine this is what my brain looks like prior to being sticky-noted:

Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP)

Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP) (Photo credit: Adrian Wallett)

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8 thoughts on “The Serendipity of Surprise or the Art of Capturing Ideas

  1. Samir on said:

    I actually do get serendipity moments when browsing through my journals. Although I certainly don’t write in them on a daily basis even though I’d like to. It’s just not necessary and feels like a self-made pressure that will only disappoint me if I focus on it. On the other hand, having those exciting moments proves that what I write, when I write it, is good enough for me. 😉

  2. I’ve got to jot down ideas before I forget them, so I end up with lots of sticky notes, too.

    • Sticky notes rock for idea collecting. I think it would be fun to create a story with sticky notes, something I might do with my creative writing students sometime.

      BtB–came across “defensteration” in a book I recently read, The Man in the Window. It leapt off the page since I am now aware of it. The perfect word for describing what happened: the man in the window fell out of it.

  3. I have always had a journal. Or two. Or three. Maybe four. Or more. Going at the same time. They used to be the large ones when I was a student and I carried the infinite backpack of holding. The journals are now those small pocket notebooks – so one is at work, one in my car, one in my bedroom, one wherever…I eventually lose track of them and find them in the most unexpected places. As I now have various “smart” devices I have been making digital notes when completely paperless – but they are rather slow for longer ideas…So in the end I basically have fancy post-it-notes that come with bindings. When I can find them that is…

  4. I’m totally with you on sticky notes! In addition to using them to jot down thoughts, I use them as an outline when I write. It’s very easy to revise when you can pick up an idea and stick it somewhere else. Journaling diesn’t work for either– I always feel pressured to be “deep”. Most of the time, I’m not that deep.

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