Archive for December 9th, 2008

Writer’s Notes

Ever since I started writing seriously, I’ve taken to carrying a little notepad with me everywhere I go. I use it mostly to jot down ideas I have during the day about my stories. I have an absolutely terrible memory.

The kind I use is the tiny 3 x 4 1/2 inch composition books with a tape spine. Just enough room to jot down an idea and small enough to fit in my jacket pocket or back pocket of my jeans. I’ve already gone through about three of them in the last couple of years. They are kind of fun to go back and read through, you can see a history of all the short stories I’ve written and the few novels.

I also use Google Docs for taking notes, when I’m near a computer. Sometimes I use Google Notes, if all I want to do is save a quick link. When I’m back home, at my laptop I will transcribe the notes to my Scrivener program. Sometimes the act of reviewing the notes can get me inspired to write faster than just sitting there looking at a blank page.

The paper notebook is also handy for jotting down an interesting conversation I over hear at diner or describing a stranger that would make a great character. Sometimes I even remember to jot down how I came up with a story or a character. That’s always invaluable later, when I go to describe the story to readers. Readers love to know what inspired you to write your story and what trials and tribulations you endured to get it written and published. I think people just like to hear that its something they could never do. In a way, the process of how you create something is like a story and people love to hear a story. Even if its about how a story is made.

Where was I? Oh yea, my notebook. I also have the original “Red Book” of ideas for my first novel that I started writing in high school. Did I mention that I was a pack rat? While I was writing that novel, as an adult, it helped to be able to go back and read how I imagined things as a kid. Much had to be altered or changed, but it would have been much harder to invent the universe that the novel is set in, without those old notes and drawings. In another post, I’ll talk about my art pads that I have done over the years and how they act like writer notebooks.

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Amberly made a comment the other day about some writing goals. One of those was not writing about writers. I wholeheartedly agree with this goal and have it for myself as well.

In poetry writing there comes the time when you have to write the poem about how you can’t think of anything to (or just can’t) write poetry. It’s just bound to happen at some point. So as writers embrace the “write what you know” mantra they end up writing about a character that is a writer. As the comment went, this is when you know you’ve come full circle and should be the warning call to get out of the house more often.

So how do writers who don’t have a travel budget, maybe live in a white-bread world, and surround ourselves with other writers (so we can commiserate) find interesting things to populate our stories? Well, there’s this thing called the internet, and all these people all over the world blogging about their own experiences. Also, get out more and develop friends who aren’t writers.

But, I’ll admit, the internet isn’t so good for finding things outside your own circle. This is where having a diverse collection of information flows helps. The news is an excellent place to do this. Not the “who shot whom today” kind of news (although that can also help) but the human interest stories where you are given a fifty thousand foot overview of someone’s life. Most of these can be classified as, “Aw, look, puppies!” However there are hints of people’s real lives in those stories; their personal tragedies and triumphs, their world view, and where the local food banks are (also good information if you want to be a full-time writer). They can give you glimpses into lives you might never encounter otherwise (although it’s always better to have those contacts yourself). And from those articles will give you a good start on being able to find more information about these lives (like does the food bank screen on income, or are they open to all).

And then there’s the other stories, like this morning’s NPR story on burning the devil in Guatemala. These are the kind of things that you can then research and find out more about.

And since my brain works this kind of way, finding those gems in the rough can lead you to learning about Dia de los Meurtos, modern day viewing of the dead in the individuals home/parlor and the rituals surrounding that, churches of evangelical snake handlers in Appalachia, and Victorian picnics in cemeteries. Those tossed off comments and minor trivia from someone else’s life can become, if not major plot points or story ideas, vibrant set dressing.

This is a form of finding the signal in the noise. The vast majority of stuff that comes in is dross, but you have to sift it to find the diamonds. The more your write the more you’ll need fresh ideas. Keeping your eyes and ears open, embracing a thirst for something new, if only it’s something different, and a willingness to dig further can all help make your stories brighter. You’ll also find you begin connecting to your readers on deeper levels, firing off their neurons in ways that keep them within the suspension of disbelief while you tell them lies.

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