Gina Barreca: Don’t Let Your Great Ideas Get Away

By Gina Barreca
The Hartford Courant

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Columnist and author Gina Barreca urges readers in 2017 to WRITE down their great ideas WHEN THEY HAPPEN!

The Hartford Courant

Here’s the one thing you need to do in 2017: You need to write everything down. Write down the great ideas you have in the middle of the night, the plots to novels, the blueprints for inventions, the obvious next steps for launching ourselves into fabulous careers and simultaneously solving the problems of the universe.

While most of these will not make sense in the morning, to have a record of them is both fascinating and hilarious.

And you never know: The 519th item might just contain precisely the dazzling insight, original concept or outrageous perspective that will change the future. Take a moment, find a bit of scrap and write down those thoughts. The alchemy occurs when the pen or pencil hits the paper.

My house and my handbags, as well as my notebooks, are filled with pieces of conversation I’ve recorded. It’s one of the reasons I still take receipts: Half of my work begins on the backs of cashier printouts from Stop & Stop, the fish market and Sephora.

Just this last week, I scribbled down a conversation that illustrated perfectly why I love my husband. Here’s the exact transcript:

Young friend explaining how she and her spouse were spending part of their visit home: “We’re going to do an escape room adventure.”

Michael: “What’s that?”

Young Friend: “It’s where a group of people who don’t really know each other are locked in a room and need to figure out how to escape within a set time limit.”

Michael: “So it’s a regular family holiday.”

I’ve been writing it all down for a long time.

That’s why I know that in 1976 I noticed that flavored mustards were all the rage, a college restaurant had lines outside the door because they had an exotic substance called “honey mustard”, but I wondered why ketchup came in only one flavor. Couldn’t my friends and I devise delicious alternatives?

Now the aisles have rows of wildly flavored ketchup. I have no regrets about not being their queen, but it was fun to stumble over the section of my college diary that reads like Chef of the Future.

You must write it down exactly as you think it, before you shine it up or make it fancy. Your idea should arrive as it came to you. It should cross the threshold from your mind to the page without a long introduction or any apology. Do not make your thought wipe its feet; do not try to gussy it up.

Most crucially, don’t make it stand around and wait until later. You’ll tell yourself you’ll remember exactly what you were thinking, but you won’t. You tell yourself you’ll remember the great line, the great joke, the great irony, the great revelation, reassuring yourself that it’s locked and sealed inside your mind, perfectly preserved.

But it’ll change almost instantly. The original conversation morphs into something a little more polished and then loses its heart along with its originality. The initial insight is frayed with having been folded and unfolded in your head and, even before it reaches paper, is slightly grubby and a little crumpled, diminished and without luster.

I’m not suggesting that by writing things down you’ll have an accurate accounting of your life. For years what I wrote as the truth was sort of reconstituted ideas and emotions, material I thought should be mine but which wasn’t. It was like creating a fake set of books for the emotional IRS.

I could say the same about my notebooks. The early ones are filled with fussily self-important misery over some boy who didn’t call or didn’t say what I wanted him to say.

Interspersed with these laments, however, are stories about what was actually happening. When I was at Cambridge University, for example, Ronald Reagan was elected president. As the BBC reported the results, I was surrounded by my colleagues and friends who were other graduate students from around the globe. They understood the intricacies and implications of American foreign policy better than I did.

Through that notebook page I have an E-Z Pass to the girl who woke up to politics, late, perhaps, but fully.

In 2017, for those you love, for yourself and for the future: Write it down. Such days will not come again.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of “If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?” and eight other books.

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