Brain Dumping

The story I started in the last post about story catching goes on. I learned that Stephanie and I needed to go beyond that interview. My understanding was that it would be a great help if I’d just write down a few memories from my childhood. That seemed simple enough. Or so it seemed, at first glance.

In a post about six weeks ago I mentioned that having finished The Albuquerque Years, I was moving on to The Los Alamos Years. Many readers may relate to my report that I’ve been feeling a little stuck with that project. Aside from life getting in the way over Christmas time, I was getting bogged down in detail and doing battle with my Inner Censor.

Yesterday brought an amazing breakthrough that benefited both needs: Stephanie’s project, and my own “stuckness.” I was ready for a quick break from the intense concentration I’ve maintained for a couple of days as I worked to prepare my presentation on “Picture Perfect Pages” for a session at the 2008 Stories From the Heart conference sponsored by Story Circle Network in Austin on February 2. I sat down at the keyboard and began a brain dump of my childhood. I covered the first six years in a single paragraph, because she can read about that in The Albuquerque Years.

Moving quickly through the turbulent year I attended four different first grades, I settled into Los Alamos. My fingers flew. I wasn’t concerned with format — paragraphs ran together, and I double-spaced between major thought clumps. As Natalie Goldberg would put it, I was simply "writing down the bones," and that’s best done at a goodly clip, without pausing for serious thought.

At first I’d thought I could finish this dump in, oh, maybe a couple of hours, tops, hopefully less. The clock said it had been six hours when I saved the file for the last time, but I had taken advantage of the astonishing 70ยบ weather to do some quick yard clean-up and tend to other chores. Altogether, I spent about four hours on this brain dump. In the end, its 6750 words filled eleven pages.

This account barely scratches the surface of what I remember, but it does a good job of skimming the surface. If I were to die tomorrow and leave only this, at least my descendants would know there is an iceberg in the sea, even if they see only the tip. I feel very good about getting this much done. It’s a huge relief. Now I can go back at my leisure and write flesh onto these bones.

I think it will be much easier to fill in blanks in this framework than to have done it the way I began — trying to remember everything from a single year before moving on to the next. I should have known to do it this way to begin with. That’s how I began The Albuquerque Years, with a fast and furious brain dump (though that one took many hours longer). Later I went back and found the holes, more than doubling the length.

So, if you are feeling stuck, try doing a brain dump. Use broad strokes, and write as fast as you can. I used the computer. I have more endurance at the keyboard than with a pen or pencil, and had to get the product to Stephanie right away. You may do better writing by hand.

Write now: do a brain dump of something you’ve been putting off writing about. It doesn’t have to take hours — even ten or twenty minutes will give you a powerful start.

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal


Linda Austin said...

Sharon, are you a member of SCN? I was thinking of joining.

Ritergal said...

Linda, I have been a member of SCN for a year now, and perhaps the best testimony is that I signed up for another. I belong to the Internet Chapter. Right now there are three of us in the Pittsburgh area, and we will be working together to offer a six week beginning Story Circle workshop, probably in March/April, hoping to get a little local momentum.

The Internet chapter is great. We have an online reading group that reads and discusses memoir written by women, and there are also online writing groups.

I blush to admit that only women are currently welcome to join, but ... some people feel strongly about that, just as they favor unisex schools. Whatever.

Please mention my name when you join. :-)


Linda Austin said...

Sounds very good! I will just sign up for the regular National level for now to get my feet wet. I'll be sure to mention you. Thanks, and thanks for tuning me into SCN.