Squirrels have the system down pat: hunt; find; save; leave; return; find; eat. By hoarding the bounties of autumn, they prepare for the hardships of winter. This ritual ensures that there is enough to eat when food is naturally scarce. It is a ritual of survival.
Developing a brainstorming habit that follows this trajectory can provide writers with similar results. When our minds are alert to the acorns of inspiration––and we have a good system for saving those acorns––we can build up a surplus. This secret stash of great ideas can keep the pilot light of inspiration going and get us through even the harshest winters of creative dormancy.
I record my “acorns” on 3” x 5” index cards, which I have on and around me at all times. They’re in my purse, in my car, in my dog-walking shoulder bag, on my desk and next to my bed. That way, when inspiration strikes, I can get it down fast and then move on with whatever I’m doing. In this way, I’ve trained my mind that its creative ideas are welcome. And I’ve trained myself to put them to good use.
I enter the acorns into a document in my computer titled––you guessed it––“acorns.” It’s divided by categories: Blog topics, essay ideas, article headlines, poetry phrases, etc. This makes it easy for me to keep track of my ideas and find them when I need them. I have a friend who saves and categorizes her index cards themselves in a large recipe box. Kim Stafford, from whom I learned this fabulous acorn metaphor, carries a beautiful, hand-made notebook in his pocket at all times; he records his acorns there.
If you start experimenting with acorns, you’ll find a system of recording and retrieving your ideas that works for you. You may be surprised at how much inspiration your mind serves up once it knows that you’re paying attention.
Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic, a creative companion for poets forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Oregon Literary Review, Cup of Comfort for Writers, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. In 2006, she won first prize in the Ghost Road Press annual poetry contest. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University where she was awarded a New York Times Foundation fellowship. For organizations including Writers on the Rise and Willamette Writers, Sage teaches poetry writing and publishing workshops. Visit Sage at www.sagesaidso.com.