That prams and art are not mutually exclusive.

Do writing ideas have a use-by-date?

By Gillian Harrison

Today I’m chasing an orange Kombi van. From the dirt tracks of Ko-Samui to the gravity defying roads of the Scottish highlands, she pops up every few pages.  Here she is again, this time closer to home,  marooned by the Indian Ocean, on an isolated stretch of West Coast Drive.

You see, I’m reading through my old writing journals. But I feel like I’m playing a paper version of Spotto. Or Where’s Wally? for vintage vehicles. Because the image of an orange kombi meanders down the roads of so many of my old stories.

This morning  I returned home to an old banana box on my doorstep. Knowing I haven’t got around to trying Aussie Farmer Direct (despite it being on my to-do list for the last three years), I scanned the familiar handwriting scratched on the lid: Found this in mum’s garage.  I ignore my preconceptions about contents found in cardboard boxes (thanks horror movies and Kevin Spacey) and remove the lid with eyes half-open. There, wrapped in an old cheesecloth shirt (did I really wear this?) and reeking of stale incense lies nothing more terrifying than a pile of notebooks. Dog eared and yellow, my name scrawled over the front cover of each.

16 old notebooks filled with forgotten ideas, short poems and floating sentences, collected between the ages of 17 and 25 and across 8 countries. Returned to me from the ghost of boyfriends past.

I flick through the pages hesitantly, still wondering what might jump out at me.  A letter written on my 18th birthday, never sent and addressed to a girl I’m no longer friends with.  A single sentence written in silver ink: ”Street Vendor in Bangkok: If you have a white elephant please give it to my lovely King”.  Conversations recorded on the back of beer coasters.

Recurring dreams about flying.

A paragraph describing the small quaint houses lining a side street in Munich. A story about a girl I’d met in a French pension, who’d broken into the house of her ex-boyfriend to steal his beer and computer mouse.  So many unfinished stories, written in code at times, when I’d been scared someone might stumble across the mixture of  autobiographical and creative writing.

As I sit now at my electronic notebook I think about last year’s workshop with The Society of Women Writers. Workshop leader, Frances Richardson gave us a three-month use-by date on writing journals.

Best before 3 months.

The notebooks that lie in front of me date long past their shelf life. Do I hide them away for another 10 years? Should I finally throw them away?

Or do I breathe life back into that old kombi and see where she takes me?

Do writing journals live forever? How long do you keep ideas? Do you ever notice a recurring theme, character or idea within your writing?

10 Responses to “Do writing ideas have a use-by-date?”

  1. jennifersmart

    Don’t throw them the away! I dislike such arbitrary rules. How can an idea have a use by date? Follow that orange kombi and have a great adventure! Jx

    • rhythm & method

      I’m with Jennifer. Good ideas will never leave you alone. They will shadow you until you breathe life into them and give them a fictional world to live in. That said, I think it’s important to write out good ideas when they are fresh and alive to you, if at all possible. I am guilty of hoarding ideas and not fleshing them out when I have the chance. Karen x

  2. ravinj

    I have a habit of visiting old journals when experiencing writer’s block. I find them soothing and entertaining, like time with old friends who can pick up where you left off no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen them.
    Two things pop out as useful immediately: the younger voice to be mined for a younger character’s thoughts and attitudes, and that old Kombi van–setting details for a story set back a decade or two that you might not think of in the now without reviewing.

  3. Christina

    I know you would NEVER throw those treasures away Karen. NEVER!!!

  4. remodelingpurgatory

    Oh, no, please don’t throw them away. Many of those journals sound like they will inspire an amazing story some day when the time is right. What a treasure!

  5. Andrea Stephenson

    No, don’t throw them away! I wrote a post last week about ‘forgotten art’ in which I said that I still feel grief for many of the things I no longer have – such as old drawings and writing I did when I was young – things that I got rid of because I didn’t see the value of them then, but that I do see the value in now – if only because they show where I came from as a writer / artist.

  6. maxabella

    I cannot even look at my old journals, but I can never get rid of them. So yes, they live on in a way. Just not a particularly good way!! x

  7. Cam @ notunimportant

    Today, I found eight journals that I’m sure are treasure-laden. For a few brief years, I had a productive journal habit. Halcyon days. Now, I’m going to mine them.
    I think writing requires serendipitous sparks, and I am excited by the idea of being sparked by my younger self. I am also comforted to know that I can plagiarise him as much as I choose.
    I don’t think an idea can go off, though it may surely shift from brilliance to idiocy. When I’m forced to jettison treasure from my life, those words of my very own might be the very last to go.


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