Like many other writers, I make a lot of notes and keep files on all sorts of things that I’m sure I’ll get to someday. But when the paper files start to spill out onto the floor or the desk, I know it’s time to cull the newspaper cuttings, scribbled notes for story ideas, and quotes from books that I was sure would prove useful or important.
This week I went through a three-ring binder where I’ve kept notes on the three series I’ve been working on beginning in 1991 and a few stand-alones that I never got to. Going through material I collected some years ago brought me back to ways I’d been thinking about writing—ideas for opening scenes or character sketches that no longer seemed strong or compelling. It was interesting to look over pages of ideas and see how much my thinking has changed. I was especially interested in how my ideas on craft had developed.
Included in all this were several ideas sketched out that meant nothing to me. I had no idea what I meant by some of it. So the question became, should I keep it or toss it? The answer was easier when I went through the news clippings that recorded peculiar people or bizarre incidents or twisted crimes. Most of them seemed blah to me now, so out they went. But one note was different.
I found a typed two-page single-spaced plot description for a thriller about a group of women who have been friends for years and sign up for an overseas tour. The tour is waylaid and the women and others held hostage. (Had I just read Bel Canto by Ann Patchett?) Hostages are killed, the police storm the site, and the women are saved. They head home and celebrate, glad to be alive. That seems like enough for a straightforward thriller, but the plot description goes on, covering the years after the women return to the States.
This outline, neatly typed, stands out for its focus on plot, and the use of a story line that I had been thinking about over the years but never used. I couldn’t figure out a title, had named some of the characters, and wasn’t sure how to end it. That may be why it goes on for so long—because I couldn’t find a point of rest, of climax and recovery and ending. In some paragraph transitions it almost feels like I didn’t know where to stop or how to stop.
When I began this clearing-out I expected at most to find some of the story ideas I had set aside while I worked on other things, or at least some of the ideas that come when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to work on next. I like those because they get me thinking. They prime the pump, I suppose, and get the ideas flowing.
But that typed outline is getting into my head. And now I have to figure out what I’m going to do with it. Write it or file it again? When other writers talk about writer’s block, I keep my mouth shut. It doesn’t happen for me. I have the other problem—way too many ideas to follow up on. And right now I have that big thriller idea, all neatly laid out for me to work on. As one of my friends in India used to say, What to do? What to do? Very great problem, madam.
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