Pinning down the sparkling images

“Maybe it’s like this, Max – you know how, when you are working on a long and ordered piece, all sorts of bright and lovely ideas and images intrude. They have no place in what you are writing, and so if you are young, you write them in a notebook for future use. And you never use them because they are sparkling and alive like colored pebbles on a wave-washed shore. It’s impossible not to fill your pockets with them. But when you get home, they are dry and colorless. I’d like to pin down a few while they are still wet.”John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize for Literature – 1962.

Me, too, Mr. Steinbeck. I’d like to pin down a few of those sparkling images, those bright and lovely ideas, while they are still wet.

In her book, “Writing Down the Bones,” Natalie Goldberg tells writers to write every day – she uses spiral notebooks, and have a goal of filling up a notebook each month. Then, go back, after you can distance yourself, and read through the notebooks and circle the ideas that are worth grabbing, worth pinning down.

Steven Pressfield says to write every day. Stephen King says write every day. Hemingway did it. They all seem to say it – write every day, and then distance yourself. Give yourself a chance to break away from that thought, from those ideas and come back later when you can read your work with more detachment. We have to have the detachment. Without it, we either think everything we’ve written is wonderful, or more commonly, everything we’ve written is trash.

Many writers get angry with their inner critic, but isn’t this because that voice comes out too early? We start criticizing ourselves before we’ve even had a chance to develop anything worth criticizing.

If we are writing every day, we are producing a lot to sift through. What are ways writers can train themselves to find the sparkling images and then focus on those, letting everything else fall away?

What a defeat it would be to get back home and find that all your ideas are just dry and colorless pebbles!


About melindamcguirewrites

The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. ------ William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Speech, Stockholm, 1950
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