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New Writers: Please Take Note!

Aug 17, 2007
Have you ever wondered how some writers seem to have plenty of ideas to work with and others very few? Well, here perhaps is one reason why . . .

If you have ever listened to anyone say something along the lines of 'I had this most amazing dream last night - but I can't just remember what it was about' you may start to guess where I'm coming from.

Firstly, it's not about writing about dreams! I just used that as an example of the nature of memory. Sometimes your memory is sharp and clear, usually about significant events. Ideas, however, can flutter off down the wind, never to be recovered. Just think about it and tell me you have never had an idea for a story that was gone ten minutes later!

So how to overcome this and retain those great ideas and thoughts that flit across your mind? Well, you could enrol in a memory-boosting course or practice mental control. Me? I use a notebook!

How simple is that? And yet so many people don't resort to this most basic of aids. Many writers keep different notebooks for different projects - they aren't used to write the actual story in, just to record thoughts and ideas, plotlines and character points and such like.

However, the notebook I'm talking about is, to me, the most important of all: I call it The Idea Book. Mine's nothing special to look at - just a small spiral-bound notebook about four inches by three. It slips into any pocket and the spiral binding is great for holding a pen or pencil. It can be used anywhere, anytime. I leave it on my bedside table at night and if I have a vivid dream that wakes me, or I remember in the morning, I write it down quickly, before the mental imagery fades.

Some people think that notebooks are old-fashioned and use modern digital dictaphones or the like. I've tried them and yes, you can leave notes on them just fine. The problem I found was being in public and using one. Unless you're a pretty out-going character, the attention you draw to yourself using such a device can be intimidating - especially if you've just had an idea about a juicy love scene for your new romantic novel!

Notebooks, on the other hand, are anonymous. Drag one out at the bus-stop and you could be writing your shopping list for all anyone standing nearby knows - not the case with a dictaphone. Budding writers are often very shy concerning enquiries about their writing and your trusty notebook will allow you to keep your ideas and thoughts private.

And don't worry if your handwriting isn't too good. As long as you yourself can read it, it doesn't matter. By all means transcribe it into a word processing document later but keep your notebooks! You'll be amazed when, leafing through them in the future, you find odd snippets and pieces that, when you wrote them, you just didn't bother copying into Word. That's one of the real values of a notebook - it's a repository of nuggets that may well lay undisturbed for years.

The very first short story I had published came about that way. I was flipping through an old notebook and suddenly spotted an idea. I couldn't even remember writing it down! I developed it, wrote it up, and got my first sale in a National women's magazine. If that had been the only time my notebook paid off, it would have been worth carrying it. I can tell you where my notebook is right at this instant - it's on the desk by my side. In fact, that little book gave me the idea for this article - I tossed it down and thought 'what a good idea - writing about notebooks!' And here's the proof that carrying a notebook works - even though (this time) I didn't write the idea down.

So I would advise you to bet a notebook as soon as you can. Go into your local stationery suppliers. Take your time about choosing one - it doesn't have to be expensive but it must 'feel right' for you. It's going to be with you for some time - until it's full, in fact - so make sure it's not too big or too small. Also, try to make sure it's a common make. Why? Well, swapping notebook types can, believe it or not, be very irritating (as I found out). Once you've found your ideal notebook, you'll want to stick with it.

And lastly - use it. This might sound obvious but using a notebook has to be habitual, not something you do to impress your non-writer friends, and the only way to form a habit is by repetition. Use it every day - even if it's only to scribble a few notes about how your day has been. In less time than you think you will wonder how you ever got along without it - and all your thought and ideas are captured forever.
About the Author
Steve Dempster writes fiction, copy and articles like the one above. For more advice on writing, visit his website I Want To Write!
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