“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. ”Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth (1909)
I love writing because it is a chance to wrist-wrestle with my dreams.
Often, I’ll wake up at 4 am with a bunch of crazy thoughts, and I have a choice. I can either jot them down by the dim glow of my cell phone, or roll over, go back to sleep, and then wake up annoyed with myself. Sure as the world, those nuggets of insight–or insanity–are gone.
It’s hard to know whether an idea is any good until you chase it down. For me, it often begins with just a glimpse of some image, or a line of overheard dialog, or a bizarre blending of things that should never be combined, like mint and vanilla ice cream. Whoever thought of that should be doing hard time in Hades.
But I digress.
The point here is that my notes are a key to my writing process. And they are, quite honestly, a hot mess. But the these piles of paper are prompts. They get me going, and that’s essential. If I just day-dream without a notebook or keyboard in hand, then I am letting the possibilities pass me by.
Yeah, there were a lot of “p”s in that last paragraph, but I was waxing philosophic. Takes a lot of “p” to do that.
So my Rule #2 is to have note-taking tools always at the ready. For some, this can be the voice app on a phone or an antique cassette recorder. For me, it’s my yellow note-pads. I learned this method from my mother. She was always writing notes, ideas, articles, and very, very long (but loving) letters to her children on her trademark huge-ish legal pads. I still have many of those letters, and I reread them with a mixture of fondness and loss.
But that’s another story. Her story, and mine most often begin on a smaller scale with those you-can-almost-cram-them-in-your-pocket pads. You pick your pen-and-ink tools or substitutes. But do use them. Often.
And that’s the nut of Rule #2. Just have the tools, and write down the gibberish you hear or the things you see. It’s OK if some of it is mundane. The fact that it stood out may mean more than you realize.
At the end of the day, set these notes aside. You can jump on an idea, or let it simmer. You may even cull them, if you like. That, too, can generate ideas. And don’t get hung up on whether the ideas are “good” or “publishable,” or “going to make you a ton of money.” Just generate ideas so you can generate material. There’s quality in quantity.
Your raw notes are a priceless treasure. Something you really can’t go back and replicate after the fact. And you will find that you’ve changed. This should not be surprising if you’re growing and working to develop your craft. I’m still working on doing that, but it’s amusing to look back and see what I had to say all those years ago. I’ll admit that much of this will never be released to an indifferent universe. But so what. It reminds me of what it was like to be a teenager, or 20-something, 30-something, or… let’s stop there.
And I read with chagrin some of the really stupid stuff I did and survived. When I was 20, during my Mesozoic Era when only Captain Kirk owned a cell phone, I raced off-road sedans in the Mojave. One fateful day, when I was lost and off-course, I crashed my Datsun into a hole the size of a swimming pool. There was nary a soul for far as the eye could see, and I walked many miles and endless hours before I was picked up by a grizzled miner in a ratty Jeep. I remember the not-so-fine details only because I took notes.
You should too. Take notes, that is, riding in Jeeps with strangers is not recommended, unless you’re suffering from extreme dehydration and experiencing heat-induced hallucinations.
And that’s it for today’s sage-brush advice. Look away from your screen, rip out the earbuds, and scribble a bit. You can even doodle a poorly-drawn image or two. Easier to do on a yellow note-pad.
You can hallucinate a bit if it helps. Just stay hydrated.