Monday, November 19, 2012

Never Forget, Never Surrender!

Alright, so that title is a little melodramatic, but it was what popped into my head, so I had to use it.  You understand, don't you?

When I'm talking to friends or anyone who says they want to write, but just don't have the time, or don't know how to start, or whatever other excuse happens to come up (hey, I've used them, too, so no judgment here), one of the first things I recommend is a notebook.  One little notebook.  Any kind.  Why?  To write down ideas as they come, take notes, get your mind used to writing words down on paper, organize your thoughts and spur your creativity.

Let's go back in time a bit.  I attended my first writer's conference three years ago now, I think?  I left that conference jazzed, but I didn't really know where to start.  I had a big idea in my mind of something I wanted to write about, but I just never had the time, and I didn't know how to begin the novel.  However, my mind was working overtime on the story.  I was stuck, though, unsure what was making me unable to just sit and write.  I would start the story, get stuck, give up, start it again.

Frustrated, I sat down with a composition book I had on hand (it had been a journal eons before), and I started writing down whatever I was thinking.  It didn't have to go together yet.  It was just a way to let my mind work through whatever was going on.

This really got the flow going, and I had a breakthrough that finally jump started Lonely Hollow: Synthesis.  I got to the point where I carried that composition book and a pen or pencil everywhere I went.  In less than a year, I'd written the novel (which is in edits), and I'd had ideas for several more, as well as short story and character sketches that came to me, but had no definite home.

Fast forward to now and I have several composition books, each for a separate novel I'd like to write.  I jot notes in them as they come to me.  These are in addition to the habit I've had for about two decades of writing down ideas that came to me.  However, those notes were disjointed before.  I have a little accordion file for index cards, because I tried to organize them at one point.  I had different colored index cards for character sketches, settings, then different genres of story ideas.

I wasn't consistent with that, though, so I also have ideas written down in various spirals, loose-leaf sheets of paper, mini-notebooks, napkins, torn pieces of paper, etc.  I kept telling myself that I would sit down one of these days and make that reorganization attempt again, but it wasn't happening.

Then I ran across an article on Lifehacker that led me to The Writer's Room, and an article about something called a Spark File, written by Steven Johnson.  He talked about writing every little idea in one single notebook then reading through it on a regular basis to "spark" your thinking and creativity.

Seems obvious now, but it was something I kept putting off, not getting to.  Now, however, organizing those thoughts into one place is a great help.  I still have my composition books, because it helps me keep organized by story, but anything not related to one of those novels I'm working on goes in my lovely all-purpose notebook.

Since reading this, I've spoken to other people about their notebooks.  One of those people was more than happy to show me her beat-up all purpose notebook, where she jots down notes and observations, as well as little snippets of writing.  She was nice enough to put together a piece for the blog I edit, Writing From the Peak, on the subject.

Here's the thing, writing all those ideas down in this way doesn't just record them for you to come back to later, though that's great, too.  For me, at least, writing those notes was a way to begin brainstorming, and it would escalate every time I recorded something in there.  Sometimes I'd end up writing for pages, because each idea would lead me to another.  And it's still like that.  The all-purpose notebook can be similar at times, where if I start writing something down it will encourage more brainstorming, but it isn't to the point of my composition books, yet.

Now, I'm old school on this, using actual notebooks made of paper, but Steven Johnson uses Google so he can access it from anywhere.  My phone is ancient, no internet access, so that's not an option for me, but I also prefer to use paper.  If I could find a typewriter that would keep up with my typing, I'd happily type along on that sucker when I write, too.  My point is, make this what you need it to be.  Use whatever form you're comfortable with, but do find a method that helps get you started.  I'm Queen Procrastinator, but writing down my ideas as they come has really helped me to stop what I'm doing and write it down right away, and that often gets me in the mood for taking it to the next step and getting words down on paper (or on the screen).

Do you have a notebook (or notebooks)?  How do you organize your thoughts?  What gets you writing?

May you find your Muse.


  1. No, but maybe I need one. Ideas seem few and far between for me.

  2. I love writing in notebooks! There's something about physically writing, with the ink flowing out across the paper, that makes my brain work differently than on a computer.

  3. Absolutely!
    I have a little one with me all the time; it fits neatly in a pocket, a purse, even dangling above this computer. Little ones are good because they are unassuming, easily filled too with all kinds of stuff, including recipes and notes to self. What remains at the end is the satisfaction that all these good things are tucked in there and can be immediately retrieved.

  4. I should use a notebook! I just keep everything in my brain... maybe that's why I'm a mess! ;-)

    Loved this post. I found it really inspiring...

  5. I've got them stashed everywhere - in the glove compartment, in my purse, under the bed, between the cookbooks... I jot down the ideas as they come (and who knows when they will!) and go back later and put them in a computer so I also have them all in one place.

  6. I have to put all my ideas in the computer, because I lose the paper if I don't.

  7. I finally gave up on the notebooks and just started entering my ideas on the computer. :)

  8. Alex, I love my notebooks. They can be so helpful.

    Hannah, I completely agree. In fact, I get a ton of writing done when I'm at sports with the kids, because I sit there with pen and paper.

    Rosaria, it is definitely satisfying to know I have all these ideas safely ensconced and at my fingertips.

    Morgan, that's wonderful to hear! Haha, yeah, I'm afraid it doesn't actually take it out of your brain, but it does help me make it a little more concrete for me.

    T., that is the step I need to take next, putting it in the computer.

    Andrew, I would lose the loose papers or the random items (though they were always somewhere in the house or a bag, but it was a matter of remembering and finding it), but the notebooks don't get lost.

    Linda, so modern! Haha. I just think better when it's on paper.

  9. I do have notebooks - and special writing pens - because I didn't grow up with a computer and thus have a ton of stuff still on paper. But I also occasionally enjoy writing on paper and I'm forced to when I travel since I only have a desktop.

  10. My notebooks are electronic, but they serve me just the same. Good luck with the edits!

  11. Oh yes! I have 2: one electronic (my iPhone) & the other an old-fashioned spiral notepad. The iPhone notepad is for ideas, whether for new books or a new scene in the book I'm currently working on. Then those scene ideas get fleshed out more in the spiral notepad. This isn't so much of an outline as it is a first draft, handwritten without setting or dialogue. It's my road map and leads my way when I sit down at my computer to write. It's a good system & works well for me. Glad to hear I'm not alone.

  12. I collect notebooks like nobody's business. I really need to dedicate a notebook to "any ideas that pop in my head" and one for a particular novel idea I'm working with. SHall give this a go, thanks :)


  13. Hi, Shannon. I enjoyed reading your post. I have notebooks, but they are very disorganized. : )

  14. I use colored index cards, boards and colored pens. When I get an idea I jot it down on a card and later pin it to the board.

  15. My magnum opus, which I've been working on since September '93, is 99% handwritten. There's just something about the old-fashioned act of sitting down with a pen and notebook, and the sense of history I feel when I look at all the notebooks I've filled over the years. I know on sight which notebook has which Part in it, and which of the one-subjects I split into two Parts. I also have a notebook from 2001 where I made all my notes and outlines for my Russian novel sequel, my third Russian novel, and the prequel. It was so nice to have those old notes to look back on when I finally got around to the sequel a decade later, with the old ink jarring my memory.

  16. Marcy, that, too. I didn't have a computer until my last year or two of high school, and then it was shared between seven people.

    Jeff, whatever works, definitely!

    Nancy, it's definitely good to hear that a similar method has gotten you to publication! Very interesting method with the spiral.

    Jamie, I hope it works! I've been collecting notebooks for ages, and there were a bunch I kept saving for something, but I had no idea what. I finally decided to use one of those cool notebooks for something.

    Susanne, I guess my notebooks are externally organized, but inside them is a different story.

    Damyanti, interesting! I still have packs of the multi-colored index cards I used to use. Every time I see them I want to do something with them.

    Carrie-Anne, wow, you should keep those forever! I don't think I'd be able to part with them.