Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Writer's Notebook

Many of my stories never see paper. An unfortunate habit of mine is to think about a story, write it in my head, and then commit it to memory. I think that one day I will actually write it down.

I do not know if this is laziness, procrastination, or stupidity, but at any rate, it is what I sometimes do. And they are seldom written down. Now that I am aging, and probably having memory loss even if I don't remember having memory loss, I figure if I don't start writing them down soon, they will never be more than flights of fancy.

Every writing class I have ever been in advocates the use of a writer's notebook or journal. Write down those ideas, I'm told. Make notes of bits of conversation, signs, images - anything that captures your attention.

Over the years I have headed this advice but in various formats. Up until about 1995 I wrote in a spiral bound journal almost every day. My writing thoughts went in there too, and those are all now hidden amidst a rather large stack of words that I might one day sift through.

Long about 1995, I started journaling at the keyboard. It too was an almost daily record and included some writing ideas.

In 2001, my journaling took a turn and became more, shall we say, politically focused. I opposed the war in Iraq from the start, but living as I do in the midst of a Republican stronghold there wasn't much of a place to say that. So my journal turned into a place of refuge as I tried to understand what my country was doing. The words were less introspective and more of a query of what was going on around me.

In 2004 I began a blog on AOL, which has long since disappeared. I moved to this blog in August 2006, and this has been one of my main places to write stuff down. I do not do major "introspection" on this blog, because I know you, dear gentle reader, are out there. And you don't need to read about my inner boogie men. It's a different style of writing.

Sometimes my ideas have also been written down on scraps of paper and tossed into files, or written down in the task list on MS Outlook (only to be lost in computer crashes, of course).  I've also had notebooks dedicated solely to writing ideas. They're around here somewhere.

In January I had an idea for a story that I liked. I mulled it over in my head and named my characters and moved through the plot line, finding holes and making changes. In a spiral bound journal that I sometimes keep (no longer do I write in such a thing daily, mostly because my handwriting, to be frank, is nearly illegible even to me), I wrote a few lines about the character.

Then I returned to college. And promptly forgot the story and gave it no thought whatsoever.

The other day I remembered that I had been thinking about  a story. A good story. And I couldn't remember a thing about it, not even the character's name. I tried to remember the story for two days and could not. I had forgotten I had written it down in my journal.

Thankfully I picked up my notebook and found a few little sentences. I read them and the whole story came rushing back like a cloud caught in a huge wind. There it was ... whoosh! there it goes. But I had the memory again and while I'd lost a lot of the construction, I could begin anew if I chose. (And I had to wonder, was it such a good story, if I'd forgotten it so readily? Hmm.)

I am a staunch supporter of journaling, blogging, writing down things on scraps of paper - whatever it takes to free up your brain. I have tried many different types of planners and notebooks and journal processes. I have pretty journals that I won't write in because they are too nice to mess up (give me a $1.99 Mead notebook and I'm fine), and I have tried journaling software such as Livejournal. I have awakened in the mornings and stumbled to pencil and paper (or to the computer) to try doing Morning Pages as advocated in the Artist's Way.

This is not only for writers. I think everyone should keep a journal or diary. Not only will they help you collect your thoughts, they are important footnotes in the annals of history. How else will the domestic life of the little people be acknowledged 200 years from now?

So today I hope that you will find your outlet. Maybe it's a blog, a notebook, a sketchpad, or a journal. Maybe it's a diary with a tiny little key, or a daily planner, or a clean new page in MS Word with the cursor blinking at you before you start.  Whatever it is, and no matter how good or bad you think it is, please cherish it as something that is uniquely you. No one else has your thoughts or your ideas.

So let's please write them down.


  1. I have fleeting thoughts about what to blog about when driving down the road... really good stuff... LOL, but it's hard to write while driving so lots of times thoughts are just that.... thoughts.

  2. I used to be the worst about this. A good idea would strike me, and be gone before I made it to the paper. My boyfriend frequently tells me I have a memory like a sieve, though. But, when I got my Android phone, I put the app QuickOffice on it. Now I can type out ideas just like in a notebook, save it to my phone, and email it to myself for backup. No more lost gems!

    But I still have to have the discipline to actually put it in the dang phone.


  3. I've been journaling and free-writing forever. I hope no one reads about my domestic life 200 years from now! I can be very very ugly Anita! But I still do it. If I'm not at my computer, I use lined pads. You can buy a stack of them real cheap. The come in white or yellow. I like the white.

    I also write down everything as far as story ideas. I would never remember this stuff. I have thousands of pieces of paper with sentences on them or whole paragraphs or just a word or two. I even write down interesting names. It's all over my desk and if a story doesn't come up after a couple of weeks, I stick them in a folder for later. I get most of my ideas right after I wake up. The best ones come after a nap.

    My very first published story was due to free-writing. Oh my goodness, I can't even remember which one it was now! Talk about memory loss!

  4. My course follows yours pretty much. I used to keep regular journals, spent a lot of time writing about the war in Iraq and now find blogging is my writers desk and filing cabinet. But I still jot notes everywhere and on everything. Finding good notes is like finding buried treasure.

    Gotta go write a dream down. It as a doozy and I've been putting it off all day.

  5. I have recently gotten back into the habit of journaling, which has been so good for me.

    As far as writing ideas, I need to be more consistent about recording them somewhere where I can go back and use them. Especially when it comes to blog posts....I have written so many fabulous blog posts in my mind, and then when I finally sit down to type them out three days later, the post in my mind is gone and I just sit and stare at the blank box with no words. ugh.


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