Thursday, July 9, 2009

That Perfect Line

I need to learn to write things down when they come to me. I don’t know how many wonderful thoughts, lines, ideas I’ve lost because I’ve thought I’ll just finish what I’m doing and write it down then and then forgotten it all together and when I’ve remembered that I had something I’ve forgotten what it was.

To a degree I have learned this lesson. I’ve learned to sleep with my journal by my bed and to turn my light on as I’m trying to fall asleep and something is finally sounding just right – or, because I sleep with a nightlight, to just write in the dark. I’ve learned to jot thoughts in the margins of my notes in class (to the degree that once the course is over I have to go through my notebooks and write all the precious gems down so they’re not lost forever) or to be sure I have paper with a blank side tucked in my Bible for church (though the margins/inserts in the bulletin often work just as well).

What I struggle with is the stopping while I’m working to write something down. Today I was cleaning house (the bathroom to be specific) and I was composing in my head as I worked and I came across this amazing little bit, and I thought I should write this down before I forget it. But I didn’t. I finished my job and then for the life of me I couldn’t remember what it was I was thinking of. I’ve wracked my brain trying to remember. I’ve tried to remember what scenes I was working on (I can remember that) and what other things the characters were saying (I can remember that, too) but that perfect little line, that inspired little line, is gone, probably forever, unless I remember it in my sleep tonight and wake up and write it down, but I’m not counting on it.

You see, I’m a believer in inspired lines, phrases, sentences, pieces of dialogue; little pieces of writing that are perfect, sent from above like little letter-angels… okay, maybe the angel thing is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get what I’m saying. I believe that these exist mostly with dialogue, that little piece of dialogue that appears on the page exactly as it would appear in life, no contrivance exists in it at all.

One such piece of dialogue I believe is in Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s novel Natural Born Charmer. The main male character is speaking with his estranged father about how he thought his girlfriend might be pregnant, and he delivers this line, “These pregnancy tests people buy…You have to—Maybe you already know this. You have to wait three minutes to get the results” (Natural Born Charmer, 332). The hesitation in the sentence, the breaking in on his own thought, that’s the way speech sounds in real life, and it comes across perfectly in this instance.

That’s not to say that you can’t miss that perfect line. I’ve read books and thought, That would be perfect if he’d said this, or if she’d said that. And maybe the author thought of it and didn’t write it down write away. I don’t know. But if you think of that perfect phrase, that perfect sentence, stop, regardless of what you’re doing and write it down. You’ll thank yourself later.

Phillips, Susan Elizabeth. Natural Born Charmer. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. P. 332

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