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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

This is the July entry for The Insecure Writer's Support Group Blog Hop.

The hop takes place on the first Wednesday of every month.  All are welcome to sign up and participate, and visit the blogs of the other participants.

This month's co-hosts are Tamara Narayan, Pat Hatt, Patricia Lynne, Juneta Key, and Doreen McGettigan. Go visit their blogs, and join in!

The question for July 5 is:

What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing?

That one is easy, though I find I have to cut my way through various good lessons I have learned in my writing path.  You know: setting the scene correctly, keeping your characters straight, avoid cliches, allow for development, let the plot unfold skilfully...  Lots of good lessons that will help you to write better, keep your stories unfolding properly, clarify characters...

A few of my notebooks
But the valuable lesson that underlies all of that, without which I, for one, can't write, is easy and embarrassingly basic.

Write it down.  

To expand: if you get an idea, preserve it in a form that you can retrieve.  

Have access to something that will help you capture the ideas.   Carry a pen and a notebook.  

Wax tablets and stylus: the past never leaves us
Wax tablets and a stylus are rather  cumbersome, but they have served over the millennia.  And if you are writing about the distant past, you can get a feel for how they worked. (Some stores actually still sell them, like this one...)

Enable the dictation feature on your iPhone (if you have one).   Or call yourself and leave yourself a message.  (But do tell your family not to delete such messages until you have had a chance to listen to them.)
The important thing is to capture your thoughts.  I have had too many times where I had a brainstorm - a plot twist, the answer to something that had been puzzling me - and thought 'Oh, yeah.  That is perfect!  I'll write it down when I get home.'

A few of my notebooks
The thing is that I often get busy and forget to write that scene when I get home.  In fact, I find myself trying to recall what scene it was, what story line, and what characters.  

We all have a lot going on, whether or not we are writers.  Things that snag our attention, and we're all to willing to succumb to a lovely distraction.  Or a disgusting one.  Sometimes we get tired.  And sometimes life really gets in the way and we lose our focus while dealing with concerns like death, unemployment, friends' celebrations and scooping litter pans.

I started carrying a notebook around with me and jotting down whatever I thought.  Over the years I developed a system with notebooks that were dedicated to whatever I was working on at the moment.  I would date the note, jot whatever it was that I thought and then, once I got around to transcribing it, making a line across the entry.  But what if you are working on, say, a story involving the Cat Show world and you have an idea for something a French veteran of the Napoleonic wars might say?  Write it down as you can.   Or...  Get a notebook with different sections and jot it in there.  It doesn't matter, so long as the idea is captured.

Paper towels work, too...
I worked for a clothing store, part time, a few years back.  I had long stretches where I had to monitor the store's dressing room.  I was working on one of my Egyptian stories at that time, and ideas were coming thick and fast.  I had no way to carry in a notebook, and I needed to capture the ideas/ clarifications/ brainstorms as they occurred...  So I used paper towels.  I wrote a post about it a few years back.  Here's a photo of the notes.  Some are crumpled from being shoved into my pocket.  

Sometimes, if I am at loose ends with a story, I will leaf through my notebooks.   For me, it helps to rekindle the ideas, the sense of adventure.

That is one of the most important practical lessons I learned when I started writing.  Other lessons?  There were plenty.

I'm off to read everyone else's insights.


  1. yes write it down! I am plagued with this simple, but often not taken piece of advice. This happened to me as recently as last night. Just as I was drifting off to sleep a perfect scene popped into my head. Did I grab my phone to jot it down in the notes section? Nope. Did I recall that 'perfection' when I got up this morning? Nope. :( Now I'll spend all day going through my head trying to piece it back together. LOL fun times ahead.

    1. Ouch! Isn't that the way it goes? You never wake up and have it come right back to you. ...though sometimes, when it takes a while to retrieve it, it ends up being better than your initial notion.

  2. Yes, to this lesson! I have learned this as well, the hard way. I know I should write these valuable ideas, thoughts and epiphanies down, but, when in bed (too tired) or sailing (too wet, windy and uncomfortable) or many other times (too lazy; no way I'd forget such a great idea!), I always ignore that lesson, and, of course, forget the thoughts. :-(

    I carry a notebook around as well, but wish I could have all my thoughts recorded with no effort at all - a voice recorder permanently mounted in my brain would work...

  3. Ha ha, yes, the notebook. I always take one everywhere too. It works!

  4. Hi Diana ... work out the best methodology for you ... and then stick to the routine - you obviously realised you needed to jot things down and used your initiative ... I must get myself into that syndrome ... cheers Hilary

  5. This is a great tip. It isn't something I currently do, but I could probably benefit from starting to follow. I like the idea of carrying a little notebook around with me to capture random thoughts during my day.

  6. Not sure if it helps at all, but I keep a "Notes" file on my iPhone where I can capture ideas if I have them. That way it's always with me. There's a file on my computer, as well...I just consult both of them when it's time to throw some ideas at my agent and see what she thinks will sell.

  7. It's fascinating to think about all the ways writers have written down their ideas through the years. I read a book, a memoir, where the writer had written her complete rough draft on her smartphone while waiting-- for appointments, in her car, wherever we are waiting and we pull out our phones. I thought that was brilliant!

  8. I love that modern wax tablet. I tend to get ideas in the shower, and I want to get them down right away when I get out. The only problem is between my shower and my computer, I have to run the gauntlet of other people who want to talk about their own thoughts. Usually I can still capture my idea when I do get there, but alas, some have been lost forever.

  9. Hi Diana - I just came across the Insecure Writer's Support Group today, and I love the blog hop idea! This was a great post. I agree with the philosophy of writing all your ideas down as soon as you can. I've tried a few different methods that haven't worked well for me. Last week, I started jotting down all my random ideas in Evernote. I use both the desktop version and the mobile app, and it's helping SO much! You can add tags to each note, which makes them really easy to sort through later. I've been using it for story ideas, blog post ideas, references, etc. It's my new favourite way to stay organized. :)