I think a lot of people have this image of the standard artistic type person. Scatter-brained, whimsical, capricious. “Practical” and “orderly” are not words generally associated with creativity.
So maybe that’s why when I’m talking to people who know I’m a writer, I often get comments like “You’re so organized!” with this surprised and awed sort of look. And the truth is, I am pretty organized in general, not just for a writer. But the other truth is, I don’t come by it naturally. I am scatter-brained and whimsical by nature. I just also have an inherent fear of finding myself unprepared, which has been with me since I was a kid. So over the years I’ve picked up many habits to help keep myself organized so I don’t end up in that position. When I was a teenager I’d schedule out each step of getting a project done in my agenda, and pack my school bag the night before because if I did it in the morning I’d inevitably forget something. As an adult, I like to joke that half of my brain is in my iPad. It’s not really a joke, though–I wouldn’t remember half the things I’m supposed to be doing if I couldn’t check the calendar and to-do list there.
But sometimes, all those habits aren’t enough.
I was reminded of this rather intensely last night. See, I have many story ideas that I’ve been playing with for varying lengths of time, from months to years, and yesterday one of the older ones suddenly snapped into focus and started nagging at me that it was finally time to write it. (I just love how an idea will take forever to sort itself out, and then insist that it needs to be written RIGHT NOW the second it gets its act together. Seriously, I’ve been patient, why can’t they?) I know a lot about this idea. I know all the major characters, and their relationships, and how those change over the course of the story. I know how it starts, major pieces of the middle, and approximately how it ends. I thought that I had written all this down back when I was originally stewing over it. So I checked my index card box that told me which old notebooks I should have notes in for it, and went to dig them up in case I’d come up with something brilliant that I’d forgotten about in the meantime.
Funny thing–of the two notebooks I’d written down the numbers for, one turned out to have absolutely nothing about this story, and the other only had a few pages. The worse thing, though, was the moment when I realized I seemed to be missing two notebooks. I have a 10 and a 13 but 11 and 12 were nowhere to be found. (I keep them all in the same box.)
After some panicked flailing, I’ve come to the conclusion (based on the fact that notebook 13 has notes for two of the same finished books as notebook 10, as well as the one I wrote just after) that somehow when I was numbering 13, I forgot that there were two other numbers between it and 10, and 11 and 12 just never existed. So I probably haven’t lost any notes. On the other hand, this means that all that brainstorming and mulling over I did for this one story idea? Most of it I never bothered to write down, for some reason I cannot conceive of. Sometimes if I’ve thought about an idea enough, it feels like I’ve written it down (hence, how this whole sequence started) or certain developments seem so obvious writing them down doesn’t feel necessary. Sometimes if I already know an idea’s not ready to work yet, I don’t feel motivated to record all the thoughts I have about it. But still. Past self, I waggle my finger at you disapprovingly.
This isn’t even the first time this has happened. I had another story idea that I actually did start writing, but stalled on. A couple years later, I came back to it, remembering having a full detailed outline for it, and could only find a couple pages of notes and a very sketchy, incomplete outline. My brain really needs to learn that what passes through it is not automatically inscribed on paper somewhere.
So, I am kind of embarrassed that for all my organizational abilities, there are apparently times when I cannot count past ten, and also when I think I see notes for a story in a notebook when they aren’t actually there. And I’m really hoping there wasn’t something brilliant that I didn’t write down and now will never remember.
But hey, if this is what comes with creativity, I have to admit I wouldn’t give it up for more order.