It never fails. I will be napping in my truck at the school parking lot, waiting to pick up my son, when a perfect story idea will hit my skull with the force of a comic book onomatopoeia (BAM! POW! SPLAT!) This sudden smack from my muse will be so inspiring that I will sit, in awe of her genius, moved to tears by the truth and beauty of the enlightenment bestowed upon me. I promise myself that this time I will not forget. This idea is too pure. Too perfect. The answer to my prayers. I can’t possibly forget inspiration so divine.
But, the school bell will ring, my son will skip out the double doors, open backpack in hand, spilling lunch bag and permission forms and gym shoes out onto the field. I will chase after his belongings, shove them back into the bag, take him home, make him a snack, clean-up said snack, and by the time I sit down that evening at my designated “writing time”, lap top open, white page beckoning me to re-create that moment I felt three hours earlier and… it is gone. Poof. Evaporated. The magic is lost. The muse moved on. I can almost see her, hand in the air, eyebrows raised, ready for that high five, but as soon as my hand is inches from hers she pulls away and, giggling hysterically calls, “Too slow!”
Cue the writer’s notebook. For the past few months I have managed to outsmart my prankster muse by carrying a writer’s notebook. I have a few, in fact, to be sure that I am never without one. There is one beside my bed (for those late-night bouts of inspiration), one in my vehicle, and one in my purse.
And while this handy little tool started as a way of catching my muse before she runs away, it has proven to be the most effective writing tool I have for more, unexpected reasons.
Flex your Muse’s Muscle
Those who work out know that the more you work a muscle group beyond its comfort zone, the better the muscle will perform. Consider the same to be true of writing. If all the writing you are doing is banging away chapter after chapter of your WIP, maybe it is time to stretch your comfort zone. Working on a single piece is a bit like only doing a bicep curl. You will get a massive bicep, but the supporting muscles won’t be able to hold it up. Having a writer’s notebook on hand helps you to be able to flex those writerly muscles in new and unexpected ways.
For example, let’s say you are at the dentist. You are early, so have ten minutes to kill. You could pick up that four-month old issue of Time they have available, or surf Mythic Scribes on your phone, or, you could take out your trusty Writer’s Notebook. Pen in hand, you survey the office. Who stands out? Take some notes. What are some interesting mannerisms the person has? How do they talk? Extend your imagination. What kind of car do you think that person drives? What do they do for work? Are they married? Educated? Why or why not? It may not feel like exercise, but these notes can help work out your muse by forcing you to pay close attention to real people. When you do this you eventually end up with a notebook full of possible personalities that you could eventually use on the page. Characters that will feel flesh and blood because they come from real life.
Life is a Snowball
One of the biggest challenges to trying to complete a manuscript is the responsibilities of having a career or family, or both. Many new writers simply cannot sit for hours every day working on their craft. With a writer’s notebook, you don’t have to. There are some people who get fit by spending hours in the gym. There are others who get fit by riding their bicycle to work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and going for family walks after dinner. Breaking up your fitness routine into four fifteen minutes sessions throughout the day has been proven to be as effective as working out for a solid hour. Writing is the same. Don’t have time to sit down for a few hours in the evening? Take your trusty writers notebook with you everywhere you go. Any time you find yourself idly sitting (even for a few minutes) you can whip it out and jot down a brief bit of dialogue or a quick setting description. You may be surprised how those little bursts of writing through the day add up to a lot of words on the page that wouldn’t have been written otherwise.
Free Weights? Or Machines?
So what is the best way to capture these bursts of inspiration? Or flex these creative muscles? Old fashioned pen and paper? Or a notes app on your latest technological device? The answer, really, is up to you. Personally, I would encourage trying the old-fashioned way for one key reason: No distraction from your internal editor.
I find that when I have the ability to press “delete” easily, I spend more time worrying about the quality of my ideas (and writing) than on the practice of simply brainstorming and generating them. When I write with pen and paper I don’t have the ability to delete, and there is a freedom to that. The words can flow without my internal editor judging what I’m writing. I can simply say what I want to say, without it having to be “good.” Like training a muscle, not every training session will be a judged event. Sometimes you have to allow yourself to simply lift some weight and look like a fool. Save the judgments for competition day, not for your notebook.
So, what do you think? If you haven’t already been keeping a Writer’s Notebook, is it something you might try? How do you see it being valuable to you? Share your thoughts!