HOW DOES A WRITER JUGGLE WITH IDEAS—OR CATS (ASSUMING HE OR SHE HAS ANY IN THE FIRST PLACE)?
Ideas are strange things. On the one hand, they are supposed to be two a penny—but, on the other hand, they can be remarkably elusive when needed. Indeed, they are downright slippery—or perhaps I should say furry.
Given my two current guests, Charlie (the white three-legged cat known officially as Charlotte) and Chester (the gorgeous Himalayan cat of little brain and worse habits) ideas remind me of cats.
They don’t come when you call, mostly they do their own thing, yet they purr when given enough attention—and can be extremely satisfying companions. In short, they are unpredictable and bloody hard to control. But it is not uncommon to fall in love with an idea. Or—so I am told—a cat. Since I am currently ambivalent about my feline guests, I am reluctant to commit on that issue. Since I loved my pet cats when I was a child, I guess it depends on the individual cat—or idea. Both come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and personalities.
Here, let me say that if your ideas don’t purr, clearly you aren’t giving them enough attention. Ideas, for all their superficial independence—and power—are needy things. You have to develop and advocate an idea—and that takes commitment and lots of energy.
I have normally dealt with ideas in a linear fashion because I learned to write before computers in the days when we still had inkwells—with ink in them (hard to believe though that may be). In short I wrote them down, one after the other—with the odd inkblot in between.
But here is the problem. Ideas don’t necessarily appear in the order they are needed. They are just not that orderly. That means they need to be sorted—often many times—until their order suits your purpose. That is not too difficult if you only have a few of them; but it is a major pain if you are dealing with dozens or more, because the human brain isn’t too good at remembering lots of different ideas at the same time. We are a simple species really. Just look at our ancestry.
What to do? I once asked a seasoned Special Forces soldier what to do in such a difficult situation—the given context was a firefight—and his reply was both priceless and practical: “Run away.” To quote a general I remember with great affection—I really do like some generals—“You have got to love soldiers.”
The traditional way of handling such a dilemma is to use index cards at the rate of one per idea. That works pretty well if the quantity is limited, but you need a big wall, or a very large pin-board if the quantity is substantial—and printing them out requires re-typing and is a pain.
There has got to be a better way.
I’m not sure there is an optimum answer. I suspect this kind of choice is decidedly personal—much as is one’s font preference—but in trawling through my collection of soon-to-be-discarded software, I ran across one program which I had liked, but which had struck me as too expensive at the time. The company has now come out with a less expensive version that I have tried out—and I am impressed.
In essence, it allows the creation of an indefinite number of electronic index cards which you can then position with your cursor as you wish. It is both dead simple and astonishingly flexible. And it is extremely easy to use—nearly writer-proof in fact (which is saying a lot in my case).
It is called Writer’s Blocks Essence and will set you back all of $39. Big brother costs $149.
Unfortunately, neither program controls cats. Maybe I’ll try juggling the pair manually, and on the edge of the balcony at that. It’s only six floors down.
Let the cats fall where they may!
But, of course I jest. Or do I?