Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Place to Write (Laura)

At a conference I recently attended, Andrea Davis Pinkney said in her wonderful keynote that "writers write every day, under all conditions." She provided the example that each morning, she goes to the pool and leaves her notebook on the side, so when she gets an idea, she can jot it down. One day she forgot her notebook, and she wrote her idea on a flip flop. I found that hilarious...and also inspiring. Even someone as successful as Andrea Davis Pinkney starts out with chicken scratch on wrinkled notepaper--or footwear.

Here are some other ideas I try to keep in mind to help prepare myself for when the muses come prodding at less than opportune times.

1. At bedtime
Keep paper and pen on your nightstand, under your pillow, or someplace else that is convenient for you, in case your mind still runs as you try to fall asleep or it wakes you up rearing to go with the sun. I have a stationary pad by my bedside, and though it mostly collects dust, I still use it. One time I was awake on and off from around two to four a.m., filling out the 4x2 stationary pages. Sometimes, if I have just a quick line to jot, I don't bother turning on the light and hope what I wrote is legible in the morning.

2. In transit
Keep a small notebook and pen in your purse, bag, or pocket that you can use when you are out and about. I used to write on scraps of paper and old, worn receipts, but now I use little, square notepads my mom has given me the last three Christmases. Sometimes you will still need to improvise, of course, as Pinkney did in her example. Once, I scrapped together a blog piece in my head that came to me as I walked the six minutes from my downtown stop to the office where I work. My mind was bursting by the time I reached my desk, and I had to take my break right away so I could spit out my entire first draft. One time, I rode the Phoenix light rail after leaving a Diamondbacks night game and had no paper with me. I stretched my mind the entire way home, trying to hold on to a scene in which a girl rides a train away from her old life. Good thing nobody talked to me the whole ride home (we were probably all tired after our team won in extra innings, walk-off style!) because I kept the nearly two-page sequence practically word for word and it became one of my favorite emotional scenes in one manuscript.

3. At work or school
Here, I want to first mention that I'm not encouraging anyone to slack off on the job or anything. But if you keep a notepad by your work station and a thought comes, you can scribble it down right away--or at least as soon as you are able to. In your classroom, use the paper and pen with which you take notes. (You probably figured that one out.) You can also bring work from home to revise on your breaks or between classes.

If you do not work in an office setting, keep the paper in your smock pocket, apron, or whatnot. Finish helping your customers or completing your task that you immediately need to and then pull out your paper to write down your thought. When I worked in a Hallmark shop, I used register tape. Working at a library, it was the little pieces of paper and tiny pencils at the computer stations. My letters would be smudged and bumpy from writing on top of the cart treads with soft lead. I would leave the paper on my cart, where I could continue adding to it until I needed another sheet. Then on my break, I would take all my little notes and add them to my notebook. I wrote the majority of my first picture book manuscript this way and several chapters of my first novel-length manuscript. I also wrote an eight-stanza poem by repeating it in my head, line by line, as I built it, until I could take my cart to the back room and write the whole thing down on a sheet of computer paper. That poem became the inspiration for the third story I want to write. I have filled half a notebook of pre-work and brainstorming on it, all because I was writing on the job when I could reasonably multitask. (Maybe don't do this one if you're a brain surgeon.)

The point is, you never know when you'll be glad you wrote down an idea, or what it could lead to.

Of course, at home...
We probably each have a dedicated writing space that is perhaps cozy or maybe even glamorous. As much as I love my writing desk--with all my pictures and mementos and books around--I do my best writing away from that desk, on crumpled, messy scraps of paper and Post-its. I just take them all home where I put them together lovingly, like making a scrapbook or composing love letters. I may not USE all of these notes--they are certainly not gold, but they move me forward, both as a writer and as a person. And like Andrea Davis Pinkney's notebook, all crinkly and smudged from pool water, the tools you use to write do not need to be perfect; they just have to work for you.

Every writer needs a place to make their magic. That place is in your heart, where you can carry it anywhere you go.

To what lengths have you gone to write down an idea?



  1. I write on my phone in my notes app then email myself the note, cut and paste, and stick it straight into my WIP. I wrote over 5,000 words that way one 3-day weekend in Australia. I skip quotation marks for dialogue and have to add that in later, but it's super effective and quick!

    1. That is an awesome idea, Jebraun. Would definitely be convenient to just paste into your WIP too. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great post! I have a little notebook I carry around in my purse for writing, but I also use the notes app on my phone to record ideas and snippets of writing. I usually write in shorthand if I am not at my computer, though, because it takes so long. :)

    1. I never even thought of phone apps. That is really good. I have a flip phone, but if I was in a real pinch, I could always text myself or text to my email. I do the shorthand too--my own version. :) Thanks, Hannah. ;)

  3. These are great ideas, Laura! I really should start keeping a notebook by my bed, instead I debate with myself about whether to go downstairs to write an idea down or hope I still remember it in the morning :) In general I don't do much note-jotting, I'm similar to your experience on the bus, where I try to hold on to what I've come up with until I can get to my computer and start typing.

    1. I was going through that all the time at night, debating getting up to write something or trying to hold on to it. The paper by the bedside eliminates a lot of stress. Lol :-) Thanks, Laurie!


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