Saturday, March 5, 2005

Writing and index cards

Elaine Fine (my wife), who like me has been carrying around a Hipster PDA, showed me this passage yesterday:

I have index cards and pens all over the house--by the bed, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, by the phones, and I have them in the glove compartment of my car. I carry one with me in my back pocket when I take my dog for a walk. In fact, I carry it folded lengthwise, if you need to know, so that, God forbid, I won't look bulky. You may want to consider doing the same. I don't even know you, but I bet you have enough on your mind without having to worry about whether or not you look bulky. So whenever I am leaving the house without my purse--in which there are actual notepads, let along index cards--I fold an index card lengthwise in half, stick it in my back pocket along with a pen, and head out, knowing that if I have an idea, or see something lovely or strange or for any reason worth remembering, I will be able to jot down a couple of words to remind me of it. Sometimes, if I overhear or think of an exact line of dialogue or a transition, I write it down verbatim. I stick the card back in my pocket. I might be walking along the salt marsh, or out at Phoenix Lake, or in the express line at Safeway, and suddenly I hear something wonderful that makes me want to smile or snap my fingers--as if it has just come back to me--and I take out my index card and scribble it down.
From Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anchor, 1995).

I've been jotting things down on index cards in my own fashion and pulled things from them to write two poems tonight. (I added Richard Goode's recording of Beethoven piano sonatas for inspiration.) Here are some of the odds and ends that made it into my poems (many others didn't):
"avoidance"

luminous faces

waiting for the other sock to drop

a bunch of motels

a shell of a shell

cheap seats
Yes, I jotted down "avoidance" with quotation marks. When I heard the phrase "cheap seats" today, I knew that I wanted to have it as a title.

[Update: Elaine describes her musical uses for index cards.]

comments: 3

Robin said...

Bird by Bird is one of my alltime favorite books on writing. I'm a photographer and I think that it applys to all creative arts. It's a valuable thing to share.

Jeanne Meyers said...

I, too, am guilty of leaving scraps of paper, notebooks, or anything that I can find to write on lying around my house. My family class it clutter, but I see it as inspirational debris, as many of my scribbles find their way to an essay that I am writing for school or a poem. I've learned that Emily Dickinson (one of my favorite poets) also possessed this wonderful habit.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, Jeanne, ED used any available scrap of paper, including old envelopes. The poet John Ashbery has described his penchant for jotting things on bits of paper, then collecting them when it's time to write a poem.