Saturday, July 16, 2016

Please Open Your Notebooks

Write it Down in Something -- Anything

One of the most important tools a writer can have is a notebook.  Some writers use a simple black & white composition book, while others prefer to write solely in Moleskine notebooks.

You will have to find out what works best for you.  This may be as easy as opting for the least expensive notebook you can find and sticking with it, or trying out several different ones until you find one that suits your needs.  

I experimented with different sizes, brands, covers and paper.  Although I will write in anything, I have settled on the large hard covered Moleskine. It is sturdy, the perfect size and has a good number of pages.

A small selection of my notebooks
You may come across many articles that will suggest what should go in a writer’s notebook.  Some say plot ideas, character sketches and the like, but this is your notebook, and I say put in it what you want.  If it will help you write better then by all means put it in.

I have many notebooks, and some of them contain a lot of writing, while others contain a lot of typed pages of my writing.  A few have articles; while others have a variety of quotes and other snippets of information.

I knew nothing about maintaining an author’s notebooks. Although I read a lot of information on it, I had to use trial and error.  

Organizing Thoughts in a Tiny Little Package

When you have a lot of ideas coming to you, it is hard to put them in an ‘area’ of your notebook.  This works fine if your notebook is a 3-ring binder, but not so easy if it is a bound notebook.  So how do you get around it?  I tried several methods, but they didn’t work for me. 

The methods I tried and didn’t work well with were:

Sectioning the notebook
  • Putting plots in one section
  • Character sketches in another
  • Miscellaneous information in a third

Right side up front, upside down back
  • Using the front of the book to do straight writing
  • Flipping the book over and upside down to write ideas and anything miscellaneous

Two notebooks
  • One notebook for miscellaneous stuff
  • One notebook for pure writing

Writing whatever -- wherever
  • Whatever comes to my mind goes on the page I’m on next.  No division of any kind

These may work for you, but for me, they failed.  However, in these failures came a method I could work with. Most notebooks do not have page numbers or table of contents. *

So I would hand number each page and in the back of the book reserve one page (front and back) for a table of contents. **

* One exception to this is the Moleskine Professional notebooks which have page numbers as well as a table of contents.

** I found that the back of the book works better aesthetically.

As for what goes where, I simplified that as well.  

  1. Definitions and quotes go in the back of the book.  I start at the last page and work toward the front.  Since these items are short, there is no chance of them not fitting on the page.

  1. Everything else goes in the front end of the book.  This includes plots, character sketches and other things that may or may not have anything to do with writing.

  1. I jot down dreams and things that happen to me.  This may sound like a journal, but I have jotted things down that later turned into short stories.  Nothing gets lost, even if it seems mundane at the time.


I have been keeping notebooks off and on since 1986.  I was mostly in off mode for most of 1990 and early 2000.  I started picking up steam again in 2010 and now have a rather large collection of notebooks.

Storage is up to you.  You’d want to keep them accessible because it is wise to go through them every once in awhile. It is a good idea if you are suffering from writer's block and need some inspiration.

I used to keep mine on a small bookshelf, but that didn’t work too well.  They are now in a bureau in my bedroom.

Keeping volumes  can be an organizing strategy

Some will argue that it is a waste of space and they opt for an electronic device.  I will not argue with anyone about what method they prefer. We are individuals with individual tastes.

With the popularity of smartphones and speech to text dictation, there is no need for the antiquated art of writing something by hand, except…

It slows down your thought process.

I’m not the first to say it. There is something about writing that causes ideas to flow better.  Don’t get me wrong, if I’m in a pinch sans notebook, I will jot something down on my phone.  However, if I’m sitting somewhere and have a few moments to spare, I will pull out my book and write it down.  But sometimes, you just have to get it out of your brain on to something, and if a phone  is all you’ve got then go for it.

Just remember, it is fun to devise plots and characters in our notebooks.  The most important thing is to get them out of that book and into a story.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Weeping Willows Don't Curse

The Willows

My daughter used to say she hated writing.  She said writing was hokey and she didn’t want to write things like, “The weeping willows wave in the wind.”  When I asked her why she thought all writing was this way, she shrugged and laughed.

In my former life, I was a poetry writer.  A lot of them were bad, if not all of them. I realized they were awful and stopped.  While in my undergrad writing class, we were given the assignment of writing poetry, I cringed because:

  • Poetry and I have a love/hate relationship
  • The class was an undergrad elective.  The students would no doubt write some clichéd things

Lucifer is Not a Cliché

Our professor stressed to NOT write clichéd things. He didn’t want any cutesy rhyming things either.  If I recall, most of the student poetry was about some type of personal pain. It was no doubt cathartic for them, but tiresome for me to listen to.  However, I kept my critiques constructive and based on structure, not subject matter.

As for me -- I was over the pain of love and betrayal.  I was going to have some fun. Since I had spent years writing poetry, I didn’t need to think too much on structure, so I went for it.
Photo: A Syn

What came were either angry works or dark works.  I’m not in league with Lucifer, but what fun it was to write about him.

I didn’t care what my classmates thought, they all thought I was 2 cent short of a dollar anyway, so why not mess with them.

I take the same approach when writing prose.  I don’t spend times hiking or sitting on a grassy knoll listening to nature.  I live in a noisy city, with trucks rattling on the metal plates in the street, and loud obnoxious people cursing in several languages.

Are there weeping willows in my path? Sure, but I see homeless people more than I see trees, so that is what I write about.

Bad Language

If my character is contemporary they may utter a bad word or two.  The language doesn’t pepper my writing, but it is reality.  Most people I talk to curse. It would feel inauthentic for me to write a character who has spent 3 years on the street that doesn’t curse.  

I've heard it said that writers who use profanity do not know how to use language. I think that is not an accurate assessment of all writers. Some writers use profanity because the story calls for it, it is that simple.

I’m not a fan of writers who use synonyms for foul language.  Unless the characters is Opie, no one should be saying “aw shucks.”

Although, the majority of Contemporary Adult Fiction I read does not have excessive foul language, I’m pleased when an author actually uses the word in its pure form.

Write Your Reality -- or Not

If you are living the life of Thoreau, then by all means write about Willows, Elms and the Mighty Oak. Write whatever you want and whatever gets you going. Just write.

Recent Contemporary Short-Story
The Man With the Dog

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Inspiration...Come Unto Me

I was staring at a blank page for two days.  I knew that my first blog post had to grab the readers attention.  With all of that pressure, it was no surprise nothing came to me. So I went to wash the dishes.

Yes, there are some of us who still take the dish soap and put it on a sponge and move it in a circular motion over the plate.  In mindlessly doing this chore, I was in 'thinking' mode.

Nothing was coming.  My mind was as blank as the page.

I thought about a YouTube video I watched with Michael Hyatt and he said his ideas come to him while he is running.  The only thing I can think about when running is if I'm going to catch that bus. However, I understood his point.  It is when you are not thinking about what to write that the ideas come.

Ideas come to me:
  • in the shower
  • on the subway (while I'm standing and can't jot anything down)
  • taking a walk
  • right before I fall asleep
  • during meditation 
  • watching TV/Movie

When ideas do not come to me:
  • when I'm looking at a blank screen

Inspiration doesn't make a regular visit. I learned as an undergrad that I have to start and the inspiration will catch up.  There have been many times I had an assignment due, and I waited all week for the inspiration to kick in.  A day or two before the assignment was due, I had to figure out something.  It wasn't like me to procrastinate, but I was empty.  So, I just started writing.

In my case, when I'm under the gun, the best stuff comes.  In my case I think it is because I become uninhibited and just write what is deep within.  That's where the good stuff is. Those are the writings that need very little editing.

Writing blogs, vlogs and websites are great.  They inspire.  They point me in the right direction, but only I know myself.  I think we should do whatever gets us to write. Walk in the rain or sing Mario Lanza songs...whatever.