As many of you guys already know, I grew up being a fan of Stephen King's writing. Something about it creeped me out, but more importantly...it spoke to me. The setting, the characters, the almost claustrophobic feel of the events taking place...I could feel it as if it was really happening at that very moment. So, I was, and still am, a fan.
I remember watching an interview with him once as he was talking about his writing process, and he was asked if he actually sat down and took 'notes' and jotted down his ideas before he started a new book, or at any time during his efforts to finish it. He was quick to give a clear and emphatic, "No!" Hehehe! He doesn't keep notes at all. The reason he gave was that, if the ideas he had were good enough to make the book, then they'd stay in his head and there would be no need to write them down. And if they weren't good enough, then they probably faded away for a reason. Makes good sense, I suppose. I can see where he's coming from.
I, on the other hand, am the exact opposite!
To me, my notes are just as important to me as the actual story itself. In fact, it's rare that I throw the notes away, even after I've finished the project. Sentimental value, I suppose. Plus, it's rare that I use all of the ideas that I come up with...so I end up going back and sliding some of those ideas right into the next story. Why not? Consider it my 'literary recycling program'.
This week, I want to talk about the benefits and the possible drawbacks of taking notes for your stories, both before you get started and during the writing process!
For me, taking notes on my ideas are essential. I make sure to keep a small pocket notebook and at least two working pens with me at all times. Inspiration can hit me at any time without warning, and when my muse gets all fired up and is looking for a way to channel itself into something productive, I want to make sue to have that outlet ready in the form of a pen and a pad. Maybe I have or overhear a particularly interesting or funny conversation and it sparks an idea. Maybe a beautiful stranger passes me in the street and I start thinking of ways to describe him as a character in one of my stories. Maybe I'm having a shitty day at work and I have some frustration that I want to get off of my shoulders. Whatever the situation, I like to develop my ideas when I'm in the moment. I tend to self reflect a lot, so when something happens, good or bad, I'm constantly asking myself how I feel about it. And how would I be able to explain that feeling to somebody else if I had to. That's where my notes come in.
I can honestly say that there have been plenty of times when I've been riding the train, or sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office, or standing in line at the grocery store...and I'll suddenly get flooded with some really vivid ideas out of nowhere. So I immediately look for a way to jot them down before I forget anything. I have an entire shoe box full of scraps of paper at the foot of my bed right now. Hehehe! Little scribbled notes on the back of candy wrappers, store receipts, junk mail envelopes...some of them are short pieces of dialogue that I thought up, some are basic layouts for what I want to accomplish with the newest chapter, and sometimes they might be ideas for an entirely new project altogether. I'm constantly trying to capture a written 'snapshot' of that moment, as some of my best ideas can be fleeting. Telling myself that I'll remember it when I get home is not an option. Because I won't. Not like I would have if I took notes in the moment.
The method to my madness is this...once I get a decent idea in my head, I want to expand on that idea. I want to explore it with the same energy and emotion that created the idea in the first place. What was I feeling that made me suddenly think up this sweet and tender moment for the next "Jesse-101" chapter? Who knows? But let me see where else this feeling will take me. You see, by writing it down...I can allow the idea to grow and change without worrying about losing its original form. Have you ever tried to memorize someone's phone number without a cell phone or without writing it down? Do you see how MADDENING that is??? Hehehe1 you end up repeating it over and over and over in your head until you nearly drive yourself insane, and just 30 seconds before you're able to find something to write it down on...you forget one of the numbers! Or you forget the area code, or get the order wrong! Arrrghhh! That's how I feel when I'm trying to remember story ideas as they come to me. My brain gets clogged up with more and more ideas, all spawned from that one momentary feeling inside, and there's no way for me to remember them all. My creative brain swells up with a ton of info sometimes, so I have to write it out like people in a sinking canoe, trying to use buckets to scoop the water out before it fills up and sends them to the bottom of the lake.
So, rule number one? Get rid of it! Hehehe, if it's in your head and in your heart att that particular moment...write it down. You don't have to pen an entire chapter right then and there, but get your details scripted out. Names, faces, places, events...put it on paper. The bonus of making this a habit is not only saving your initial thoughts...but you don't have to stress yourself out over remembering it for later. You won't have to repeat the details in your mind again and again, only to lose some of them anyway in the end. Also, your brain can sort of push that idea to the side and build on it. It's been my experience that any idea, no matter how small or how vague...the second I write it down on a piece of paper, my mind starts coming up with ways to support and expand on it. Right away. It's become an automatic part of the process for me now.
Example...I might hear a song on the radio, and it'll inspire me to think of two characters sharing their very first kiss while listening to that very song. The melody might just trigger something in me, and I reach for my pen and pad. I imagine that kiss, and how I would visualize it, what words I would use to describe it, and where it takes place. I might just write...
"Ethan and Drew look at each other, music playing, drawn in slowly, so nervous, lips touch, heart racing."
They're just a skeletal structure of a scene, but it's enough to remind me what I was thinking of and how I wanted it to look. However, once that's written down and I don't have to worry about remembering it later...my mind starts to add details. Maybe they're laying on the bed. Maybe it's raining outside. Maybe they use their feet to kick their shoes off and let them fall to the floor. As the moment expands, I start thinking that maybe they were having some sort of softly spoken dialogue that led up to that moment. Then a brief silence. Then the kiss. And then I'll add a few notes about what that kiss leads to. Maybe they go further. Maybe they stop and just enjoy the sound of the rain against the window. Maybe Ethan's mom comes home and they get interrupted. Maybe a friggin' Tasmanian Devil jumps out from under the bed and devours them both! I don't know! LOL! But whatever it is that's got me feeling the urge to start writing...I want to catch it. I want to hold onto it. And then recall that emotion as soon as I can get back to my keyboard to type it out. So keeping a pen handy at all times is an absolute must for me. I'm pretty sure I would have lost volumes of work and ideas if I didn't have a way to keep my most spontaneous thoughts with me.
However, you don't want to get too dependent on your notes in the long run. You want to remember your ideas and free your mind up with enough space to make room for more...but you've got to remember that they're just 'scribbles'. What you jot down in your notebook is NOT some sort of binding contract, where you're now forced to put every single thought in your head into your story. As I said before, I make an effort to collect all of my ideas and keep them handy if I need them, but I don't use them ALL. That would be crazy. Think of it like leftovers in the fridge. The night you had that dinner originally might have been amazing and delicious and awesome all around. But, you may look in the back of the fridge a week later and still see it sitting there. You might start thinking, "I really don't feel like keeping this any longer. I might as well throw it out." These random ideas and spontaneous thoughts are no different. So if you go back and look at them later or you put some more thought into them and decide they don't really 'fit' into the framework that you're trying to create...let them go. Or use them elsewhere. Don't be discouraged. It wasn't a BAD idea...it was a spur of the moment idea. That's all.
Also, don't let your notes, outlines, or its of dialogue constrain you. Be flexible when you're writing. more spontaneous ideas will come to you as your typing out your next chapter. Trust me. So don't feel like you're handcuffed to the notes you took before you started writing. If you want to cut something out that was in your notes? Cut it out. If you want to expand on an idea by adding things that weren't in your notes? Add them in. The beauty of writing your own stories is that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. The only rule book you have to follow is the one you write for yourself. And alll rules are subject to change at any time. So proudly take advantage of your freedom and only use your notes as a grab bag of helpful treats...and not some rigid set of laws that has to be reproduced exactly the way it was written when you thought of it. Relax. Allow you talents to flow organically and bring all the heart it can to your story.
Anyway, I hope this makes some kind of sense. I always have to keep notes when I'm thinking of these articles too! Hehehe! ::Holds up my trusty piece of folded scrap paper:: I know what it's like to really enjoy writing and the thrill it can give you when the ideas are just flying at you to the point where your typing fingers can barely keep up. But I also know that 'passion' and 'opportunity' don't always line up the way we want them to. We won't always have the chance to run for our laptops and start writing every time the creative lightning strikes...and there's nothing worse than having a really good idea, or cleverly worded block of dialogue...and forgetting the best parts of it before you get home.
So keep something to write on and something to write WITH in your pockets at all times! That would be my advice.
Take care, you guys! Happy writing! And I'll seezya soon!