(January 6 – 12)

I finished the short story I was revisiting over the last few weeks! It’s a good feeling to start the year having finished something. And I then sent the finished story to a friend for a beta read and promptly rewrote the last 1,000 words …

Occasionally I find it hard to judge when a story is done. I might tinker on something endlessly, and not realise that it’s ready to go; or I might wrap up a story and then go back to it months later and realise that it’s fundamentally flawed. 

Getting at least one person (and, ideally, you want more) to beta read a story gives me the benefit of another opinion, and the confidence to see which bits are working and which might benefit from a little more work.

One good thing

I started a new project this week: compiling a timeline of my life. This isn’t part of any greater plan; it’s simply due to the fact that while I remember a lot of the things that happened in my life, I’m terrible at remembering when they happened.

During the course of this work, two interesting things happened. Firstly, I found a pile of letters from some pen pals that I had completely and utterly forgotten about. I feel quite ashamed and embarrassed about this, given that we clearly exchanged letters for a couple of years. I scanned through several of these letters, trying to pick through the mystery of who these people where, and why I had no memory of them. Finally, in one of the letters, they had enclosed a photo. Now, the photo I did remember, and seeing it was my first assurance that there was some part of this epistolary relationship that I could be sure really happened.

As a separate part of this exercise, I was walking through Google Streetview trying to locate a place where I used to live many … many years ago. My youngest son came to watch, and I ended up showing him my old school as well as the house I grew up in. 

In doing so I reflected that these would simply be pictures of buildings for him. There would be no context, no memories. For me, however, those images would be associated with all manner of stories and history. The images were simply a cue to the various memories.

It all made me realise a couple of things. For one, my memory is strongly visual. I have a very poor memory for dates and details, but I remember visuals. I may not recall addresses, but I can see every place I lived in. I don’t remember the dates, but I remember the occasion of almost every film I went to see at the cinema. This realisation reassured me a fair amount that I don’t necessarily have a terrible memory for things; I simply remember them a different way.

The other thing I took away from all this was how our memories become stories, and that’s how they survive. When showing my youngest the images of my childhood, the only way they’ll become more than mere buildings is if I start to tell him stories about my life inside them. Then those stories become his memories. If one of them captures his imagination it could become a story that he, in turn, passes on.

This, obviously, is how civilisations and cultures traditionally preserved their history: by turning memories into narratives that could be shared. Stories live longer than memories, after all.

One bad thing

Tied into my targets for this year is the need to be more disciplined and focused with my writing. One of the steps I pledged to take towards achieving that is not having my phone sitting next to me on the desk when I write (since I will inevitably pick it up and start browsing social media as soon as my mind wanders).

More often than not, I’m still finding that my phone is there on the desk, but I have made a point of moving it to the other side of the room when this happens. This is already proving beneficial: when my attention wanders now, the interruption is only for a few seconds, and there’s less of a cognitive leap to get back into writing mode.

Also, if I do feel compelled to grab my phone, at least I have to get out of the chair and stretch my legs to do it, which is another net benefit.