I know, though, that early tomorrow morning I’ll want to actually get the words down on to my screen (and then get them up again and then get them down again) but before I do that I need to have an idea and I need to write that idea down in my notebook.
The generation of ideas is something I’ve got used to doing over the years but it never gets any easier; sometimes something will happen or I’ll overhear something and I’ll think ‘‘Ah, there’s a subject for a column!’’ and I’ll write the idea down and Bob, as they say, is your Uncle.
Sometimes, though, the generation of ideas is like what’s happening now: I’ve been on my evening stroll and pounded my brain to come up with an idea for a column.
This pounding of the brain isn’t a literal head-slapping because, for one thing, that would look daft as I strolled along; no, the brain pounding is simply letting a word, any word, pop into my head, and see if anything appears to pop up next to it.
So, for example, I could say the word ‘‘umbrella’’ to myself. Maybe the word ‘‘broken’’ would unfurl itself next to the umbrella. Then I’d see a picture of a broken umbrella maybe lying in a ditch after a heavy storm.
Then I’d ask myself what the smashed umbrella looked like and my simile-hungry brain would say that it resembled a spider’s web. And the idea would develop from there. Or not, of course.
Sometimes ideas appear and you think they’re going to be gold cup winners and end up being also-rans or, worse, non-starters.
Let’s assume I’ve got the idea and think it’s a good one that I can use to generate the sentences and paragraphs needed for a column. I sit on the bench and fish my notebook out of my pocket and write a couple of words in it and, just to make sure, I text myself the idea too.
I don’t really need to do both things but the more I can remind myself of the idea the more the idea will begin to germinate.
Then, as I walk home, I picture the finished column as it will look on my screen and, perhaps more importantly, how it will look in the pages of this magazine.
This is very useful to me because it forces me to write the piece. I let the idea sit in the notebook and on my phone and then I say the idea to myself a few times before I go to bed because while I’m asleep the idea will begin to grow into sequential words that start to make sense; not sentences exactly, not yet, but almost.
The next day I’ll get up early and the idea will have blossomed overnight. Now for the heard part: time to actually get the words to dance in public.
To the keyboard, McMillan!