For the love of everything Holy, write it the hell down!

One of my aims for this year is to be able to write a post entitled ‘How I Write a Novel’. However, since I should probably complete more than one before I claim to have enough experience to do this, I shall, for now, stick to the nuts-and-bolts of writing that applies to anything and everything I’ve tried so far.

One important lesson in this vein, and one I have learned the hard way, is the one about writing it the hell down. 

Don’t worry, I’m not off my rocker. Not quite. I know that in order to be any kind of writer, writing stuff down is sort of a given. But what I mean is, for the love of Pete, make sure you have the means to write an idea down whenever or wherever it occurs to.

I guess I’ve always been a day dreamer, but now that I’m turning daydreams into fodder for fiction, I never completely disengage from them. Whenever I have a spare moment I’m pondering, planning, surmising. I’m a little concerned that I often have something of a glazed look. It’s entirely possible I may even drool a little as I let my mind wander off on its own. I’m thinking of investing in a t-shirt that says ‘don’t worry, I’m a writer’ in order to avoid the concerned looks that sometimes come my way on the bus.

Drool or no drool, this is one of the most fun parts of the process for me: the dreaming, the creating, the wondering. It’s the pure bit, before it has to be nailed down in black and white and glued together with technique, style and voice, all those things it takes most writers years and years to develop. But even this pure, boundless act of creating can bring pain. Oh yes. And not just the bump on the forehead from encountering a lamppost whilst planning your next plot twist.

I have all too often been struck with the lightning of inspiration when out int he wilds on some country lane, or bus stop more likely, only to get back to my eager word processor that night and have my brain become a windswept desert. One of the cold ones too, in antarctica maybe, where it’s all rock and ice and the sun never goes down.

Mental tumbleweeds are never fun, but they are even worse when tumbling their way across a void that only hours before contained a rich plethora of ideas.

I’m certain most people out there are probably less like a goldfish than I, but even if you have the mental sponginess to absorb litres of inspiration…I would still recommend writing it the hell down. Seriously. Especially as your best ideas will probably come when you are not distracted and therefore less likely to be sat in front of a word processor.

My walk to and from work is prime time for drool-enducing dialogue-planning and plot-spinning. This 3-mile round commute is when I come up with most of my ideas. And all too often have I settled down that evening, booted up the word processor file, only to stare at the cursor gradually going blurry with fury when the sodding idea won’t come home to roost.


This might have already been done…

Personally, having a smart phone has been a revolution for me. It means the second I come up with something, no matter where I am, I can write it the hell down. Even if it’s just a single sentence, I email it to myself. Then I also get a handy little notification that reminds me I have something to check later. For longer-term goals, like ideas about an ending, plots for future books or even subjects for future blog posts, I use the ‘Notes’ app. This is just how it works for me and it I have not lost an idea since I’ve had it. But either way, everyone has to find their own way.

But whatever your way is…really…write it the hell down.

If you find the trappings of modern technology more stifling than liberating, stick to the classics: carry a notebook, notepad, a diary, anything. Oh, and a pen. Forget the notebook even, just carry the pen. Write your idea on your hand, arm, thigh, any bit of exposed flesh that won’t get you arrested in a public place, but please, write it the hell down.

Old-school Writers’ Journal

At university my tutors virtually never stopped extolling the virtues of having a writers’ journal. Like many of their great pieces of advice, it took my quite a while to come to understand how I could make it work for me. I have never kept a diary and I have the world’s most appalling handwriting (I’m relatively certain my English teachers in secondary school used to cry themselves to sleep at night…until I got top marks in the literature exams, anyway) so keeping an actual journal in the terms I understood was a bit of a chore. I tried anyway, as I dutifully tried everything my tutors suggested. But once again, I found the real thing I was supposed to learn was how best to make the idea work for me.

So maybe initially I took it this advice too literally. Maybe we all have writers’ journals in some form or another. And if you don’t, you should try to develop one. Not only could you use it to track and examine your progress, but it could be the instrument which you use to record those flashes of inspiration you get when on a freezing cold train platform waiting on the delayed 17:58 to Manchester, as well as to make lists of books to read, things to try, lists of publishers, anything. Anything. It can be a blog or a book or a wall chart. Write it on your cat if they stay still long enough to let you.

Coming up with your particular form of writers’ journal might take a few tries with a few different mediums, and you may even settle on a combination, smart phone and wall chart, note pad and iPad, but whatever you do, however you choose to do it, make sure you have a way to write it the hell down. I want to spare you my tooth-grinding, hair-pulling, curse-enducing but entirely avoidable tumbleweed moments.

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27 Responses to For the love of everything Holy, write it the hell down!

  1. D. James Fortescue says:

    You are totally correct. The mobile phone age has helped greatly; I managed to write a scene for my ‘Big Project’ on the train, and everyone who’s seen it says it’s awesome. The Muse never arrives at a convenient time, so as a jealous lion once sang, ‘be prepared’.

    • Exactly 😀 I think some people struggle with the digital age and all it entails and expects from us artists – social media etc – but I’m very much if the philosophy: make it work for you! Trains are great for this, your thoughts are unhindered!

  2. 1WriteWay says:

    You are so right about writing ideas down. However, you appear to have the advantage of mass transportation, where you can be productive while being transported from A to B. Unfortunately, where I live, the car rules and it’s not safe to pull out one’s smartphone or pen and paper while driving. (Well, in my mind, it’s not safe although I see worse abuses on a daily basis.) That said, I totally agree with you that one should develop someway to jot those ideas down before they get lost in the morass of other but less important ideas. Sometimes it means that I repeat (out loud if I’m driving alone) the idea to myself over and over until I’m at a safe place to stop and write. I have a voice recorder on my cheap phone but haven’t used it yet because it would still require me to handle the phone while driving. Since my truck has manual transmission, that’s a challenge that I prefer not to take. Still, on a phone, the voice recorder could be even handier than an email or Note app.

    • You are right, the car is somewhere where, no matter how advanced your writing journal, you cannot always get it down. I commend you on your safe practice! And hope that all your best ideas come to you when you’re in striking distance if your destination/a handy lay by! I know how lucky I am that I can walk to work. I do most of my thinking and imagining then and honestly don’t know if I’d be at the point I am now without it

      • 1WriteWay says:

        I used to live in an urban area where I could walk to work or bus or take the train. I rarely drove, and I was truly much more productive back then 🙂 Walking is a wonderful activity for freeing the mind.

      • I am going to enjoy it whilst I can! One day I will have to grow up and get a car and a proper job XD

  3. I once named a character Rich Plethora…

    This is all so true, and I’m glad you bring it up. Some of my best ideas have been lost to the ionosphere because I didn’t have notebook and pen handy. Somewhere in there I learned. By now, I know that I WILL forget, and posterity will have to suffer along without my deep thoughts if I don’t write them the hell down!

    • I love that you have a character called Rich Plethora, this pleases me no end!

      Yes indeed, the frustration is almost unbearable when it happens and is so easily avoided. It took me a while, and an iPhone, to finally kick myself into gear

  4. Gwen Stephens says:

    It’s simplistic, yet so true! Write it the hell down. In my case, if I fail to follow this tip, it’s lost in oblivion, usually forever. I should take advantage of my smartphone more often. Hope all’s well.

    • Thanks, Gwen! Yes they may sometimes be viewed as a bit of a curse but I find mine invaluable, not only for making sure I don’t lose snippets of story that come to me int he great wide beyond, but also for being able to check wordpress, twitter, goodreads, amazon, all those myriad online places that can be invaluable to a new writer figuring out where they’re going.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment and I hope you had a lovely Christmas & New Year 🙂

      • Gwen Stephens says:

        And the same to you – I hope your Holidays were restful and spent with loved ones. I’m just now starting to brush away the cobwebs after a couple weeks R&R. And boy, I’m rusty indeed.

      • It seems to go so quickly, doesn’t it? And yet is still something of a challenge to get back into the regular routines!

        My holiday was lovely, thank you and, indeed, spent with loved ones. I’m getting my head back into work mode again now though, preparing to hermit myself and write another novel draft before summer 🙂 No rest for the wicked!

        I hope your plans for the new year are fulfilling and off to a good start 🙂

  5. Helena Hann-Basquiat says:

    I do the same thing. I am constantly dictating notes to my phone even if it’s a great phrase that comes to me that I want to use later. My mind is not as sharp as it once was! So thank God I have my phone!!!

  6. Oh man, my smartphone and Evernote are two of the most precious things in my life (family fits in there somewhere, I promise! 🙂 ). But seriously, that has been the perfect solution for not forgetting things.

    The other side of the coin, and one at which I’m terrible at, is organizing and reviewing those thoughts. I try, but I’m sure I could be doing a better job.

    Another fun thing I like is using the Speech-to-Text feature on Evernote. It gets what I say so wrong that the results are an inspiration in and of themselves!

  7. Dave says:

    Absolutely true. Write all those ideas down, or they just might escape. After that happens, it can be very hard to find them again. As for me, I use a journal. Nice thing is it’s a digital. I’m a mac person and I found this wonderful program called MacJournal. I’ve placed so many ideas in there it could keep me busy for a long, long time. I believe there’s an iPad version, and even an iPhone version, but I haven’t tried them yet.

    Your commute is nice. Mine is short, as in from my bedroom upstairs through the kitchen for coffee across the hall and into my office. To get my walk in, I have to get up and walk around the block a few times. Those are some good daydreaming times … I also tend to get very creative when running.

    • Definitely! Any time you’re away from distractions and are able to follow your imagination’s wandering paths is prime-time story-making time. Having something that can fit in your pocket to record this things is vital. I have lost too much to the winds of circumstance!

      I have not heard of that app! I am also a Mac person so I might very well look into that.

      Thanks so much as always for taking the time to read and comment

  8. D. James Fortescue says:

    I stumbled across an article regarding the greatest essays on writing.

    The number ten article, “On Keeping a Notebook” by Joan Didion, sounds like the exact vein of thought you had for this post.

    • Thanks, DJ! This looks really interesting. Yes indeed, I think lots of writers agree with us on this one. Probably one bit of the few logistical pieces of advice that applies to as all, once we find our own way of doing it.

  9. M. C. Dulac says:

    Fabulous piece! Do you know that every time I read your posts they motivate me to do something! I grabbed out all my little books where I jot down my ideas and actually jotted down some of those tumbleweeds before they blew away! I am sure I have that glazed distant look on my face frequently 🙂

    • I’m so pleased 😀 Yes, sew that little notebook to your hip! You never know when your brain will blindside you!

      And yes the ratio of non-glazed to glazed periods of time is tipping in favour of the glazed more and more these days XD I really need to think about that t-shirt

  10. Pingback: Writing journals, New Year Resolutions and a Literary Cat | M. C. Dulac

  11. Toler says:

    I simply wanted to jot down a fast concept to be able to give thanks a person for the people great ideas and also clues you’re demonstrating on this website.

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