Lost Ideas


Somewhere in my latest pocket notebook, in the middle of the page, is a hastily scribbled note that reads:


It is both working title and brain bookmark to an idea for a short story that has been swimming in my head since at least the last week. It was an old idea, but the current form started kicking around in the gauzy background-noise imagination warehouse of my being after a sumptuously talky night out with a friend I hadn’t met in months. Some ideas come in a flash, must be written down, must be captured and nailed into pitifully short, scribbled notes in little notebooks. Others you only notice days or weeks after they’ve already arrived.

And all these ideas may never leave that little notebook page.

Sometimes I will come across an old notebook — or worse, an old To Do list — and see a single name for a writing project among the clutter of crossed-out drawing, email, work entries.


I will stare at it for a minute. The word will mean nothing to my conscious brain. But already in the back there will be the stirrings of a sense memory, the dull echo of the excitement I once felt for that word; a swirling of that gauzy background noise, but not a clue as to what that story or idea was actually about. Confetti strewn on an empty street. Once, that idea must have consumed me. I must have spent hours thinking about it, days planning to execute it, reveling in the clever little turns of plot & dialogue that raced through my brain. At some point I let whatever POLENDRON was slip from my brain, because beginning it wasn’t exciting any more. I may have even begun writing something with regards to it, but either forgot or moved onto another, newer scribble in my then-notepad.

I can complain all I want about never finishing anything, but it’s quite often that I never truly begin things. And when I look back at these things I can’t quite remember, I sometimes wonder if that’s for the best. I would like to imagine a world where I am either absolutely productive, putting to page every single idea I’ve had in immaculate, amazing finished pieces, or absolutely unburdened by these lost projects. I don’t know if I’d like to be the man at the party who never looks up from his smartphone because he’s writing a ripping yarn he thought up in the elevator, or the man at the party who says, “Oh yeah, I have stacks of unwritten novels. I’m a great writer. I have a whole lifetime career of books, if only I’d written them…*”

*(NOTE: I have definitely been this person. If you were on the receiving end, I apologise.)

In either extreme case, I would not be the person who was sitting with my friend that day talking about relationships and dating and expectations, and I would not then go home that night with the background noise necessary to scribble THE NUMBER OF BLONDES into my notepad the following day.

It is quite possible that THE NUMBER OF BLONDES will meet the same fate as POLENDRON. Today, tomorrow, the day after, I may think the premise too flimsy, too pretentious, the lack of an ending already set in stone uncomfortable, and easily set it back out into the noise, replace it with imagining what Star Wars Episode 7 will be like (Oh yes, that just happened). I shouldn’t bother, really, but the imagination always goes where it shouldn’t, and where it is most easily rewarded with the sugary nectar of something old & already well-thought out by somebody else. All the hard work done, just waiting for you to put your own genius spin on things.

But it’s also never yours to lose.


About NaNoWriMo…

I have never really finished anything I’ve started on that thing. I’ve never taken part in the community aspect. I’ve never really written anything I’d consider stellar (except for my first one, and that was more through sheer momentum of having reached the 30K mark on a story for the first time rather than anything inherent to the event).

Nanowrimo is a good motivational tool to set youself the goal of writing 50K in a month, but it isn’t going to write those 50K words for you, if you know what I mean. I think I may do another ‘meta-nano’ like I did (or attempted to do) last year.

To explain: last year I decided to dust off my very first — circa 2001! — nanowrimo project, The Tale of a Thousand Savants, and try and finish it. For the first week I directly continued from where I left off, and the writing was okay but the story was colossally boring (There was the excerpt posted here). I scrapped the chapter and spent a while mulling over where exactly the story had gone off the rails. Deciding that what was needed was a good kick in the plot, I took the advice that when you’re stuck have two men with guns burst into the room. I backed up the plot a bit, took a different fork and continued along happily down this new and more exciting road.

Funny things happened. I started asking all sorts of questions I hadn’t asked five years before. “Who are these people?” “Why are they all acting so stupid?” “Why am I writing them so stupid?” The plot I had so carefully constructed unravelled before me, a million strings and no logical way to put them back together. So, next I went back over the 1/3rd of the novel that was written, took down notes as if I hadn’t written it myself, and began to poke holes in it. Believe me, this was easier than I thought it would be. What followed was weeks of decontructing and reconstructing things, changing things, tweaking things, keeping things from the old and laying down groundwork for the new.

None of this was actual text, mind-you; only notes in longhand in a diary, something I find works better than on a computer (I still type the story on a ‘puter). I took a lot of notes that month. Not 50,000 words worth of notes, but certainly a lot more than I usually do. Blame it on an upbringing as a comic book geek, and attempting to write a story ‘in-canon’ when the canon has changed and evolved over time. TOATS, like the Legion of Super-Heroes, really gets the short end of the lollypop most times the multiverse goes through a crossover restructuring.

Oh, don’t look so sad: I still kept ‘Research‘. And Park. And Chef.

All in all, I don’t consider that nanowrimo a failure. Sure, I didn’t write 50K words of a novel in a month. But, I’ve started to reconsider November as a month of trying things out, just like I did back in 2001 by attempting to write a novel. Hey, I didn’t for one second think I would have a completed novel by the end, especially not a 50K one. The nanowrimo people have their rules — and I don’t begrudge them that — but I’m just not particularly interested in the athletic display of fictional prowess anymore. I don’t feel particularly sorry if I can’t get a “Winner!” GIF at the end.

So this November, I’m just going to write 50K words of fiction, period.

I already have halfway done stories to finish. You guys have read a bit of Fishbowl. Jamie hasn’t even read that much, as I’d promised him (last March!) that I would deliver a finished story for him to read. Sundari, my Script Frenzy project, is barely off the ground despite being over 20K words–success!–but, um, not really because it’s not in proper Hollywood script format. I’d really like to tackle that, not as a movie script but as a graphic novel script. Part of the reason why I’m no longer enchanted by nanowrimo proper was winning Script Frenzy. At the end of it, I just felt a tired and asked myself, “Am I done? Is that satisfactory?”

I enjoyed writing it immensely, but there was no payoff. I enjoyed not finishing nanowrimo for several years much, much more.

Speaking of comics, Spyder mentioned the idea of working on a comic idea for a whole month. I say: Go for it! If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a 50 panel comic (that’s 8 pages if you go 6-panel) is a worthy challenge to take on in 30 days.

There are also a few short story ideas I’ve had floating around in my head recently, and I’d like to try them because that’s really where I started writing, and that’s really the only place I can claim to have successfully written (but not published, which is a whole ‘nother matter). Aishwarya is also doing a bit of a non-standard nano by writing a short story collection. She’s signed up officially and I assume she’s going to be plugging her word count into the site. Does the counting program care that it’s not all one narrative? No it doesn’t. Do I? Hell no. I think it’s as much of a task as writing a novel; anybody who told you writing short stories — good short stories — is easy, obviously never wrote one.

Anybody who tells you that writing a short story is less of a buzz than a novel is similarly mistaken. They’re just different kinds of buzzes, that’s all.

(There’s a whole debate here about what actually constitutes a ‘novel’ or what even constitutes a single narrative or story, but that’s a matter for another time or, if you are so inclined, this post’s comment thread.)

So onward, brave nano–no! Onward, brave storytellers. I hope this November is as fruitful and enjoyable for me and you as it has been for me in the past.