The Write Idea

Ideas often come when you can’t write them down.
Worse yet, before you can get pen and paper in hand, they’re gone. Poof!

Bugger of all buggers for a writer!


It happens to all of us. A young friend of mine recently expressed an interest in writing poetry, so I encouraged her to give it a try. Today, I asked her how it was going. She told me she’d gotten an idea for a poem, but it came to her while she was at a funeral and, unfortunately, she couldn’t remember it afterward.

A great tip for writers is to have our writing tools always at the ready. That’s a great plan, in theory, but as my friend’s experience illustrates, it’s not always possible or appropriate to jot down our ideas in the moment they occur. Even if you can get to it quickly, the idea may still get away before you get it all down.

Here are a few scenarios that I have experienced, plus a poem I wrote in the process of writing this post. I’d love to hear your experiences and any tips you might want to share.


In the first scenario, I get an idea for a poem. (For me, that’s usually two or three lines, sometimes more.) I try to keep them in my head because I can’t write them down at that moment. Within minutes, despite my efforts, I find that I remember the gist of it, but the exact phrasing that popped into my head is gone. No matter how much I try, I just can’t seem to get it back and nothing I can think of is quite as good as that original thought.

The subtlety, the rhythm, the specific words and the order of those words—it all matters in our writing. I think this is especially true in poetry.


In this scenario, I manage to remember both the idea and the phrasing long enough to get my pen and paper. I start scribbling down the words as quickly as I can, but I can feel words floating away as I write. They’re the words I haven’t gotten to yet. I realize I need to catch what I can before the whole thing is gone, so I start writing bits and pieces, rather than the complete phrases.

I’m hoping that those bits and pieces will be enough to trigger my memory so I can put the lines and phrases back together and save my poem. It won’t be the same, I know, but if I can save enough, perhaps…


Of course, there are times when everything seems to work. I get my writing tools. I start writing. I manage to save the thought, the phrasing, the rhythm, everything. Joy! I get it all down before it evaporates. And then I read it. And it’s not nearly as fabulous on paper as it was in my head. All the words are there. They’re in the right order. The phrasing is exactly how it came to me. Yes, it’s all there…but it’s all wrong.

Maybe with a few tweaks it will work; maybe not. I try to save my poem from sudden death.


My favorite scenario is when I get the whole idea down on paper (or in the computer) and it’s actually as good (or nearly as good) as it was in my head. It may not be the whole poem yet and it may need revisions, but it’s a good start, and when I’m finished, I’ll have a poem.

That’s the hope every time an idea pops in—that it will become a finished poem. Most don’t, so when it happens, it’s very satisfying; no matter how long it takes.

by Melinda McIntosh

Take a moment to wish them well
The ones that got away
For in the end
They never were
And be, they never may

Let go of all the could-have-beens
The tears that dampen dreams
Embrace what is
And what will be
Will be to the extreme


2 thoughts on “The Write Idea

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