When an idea strikes, do you feel the need to write it down?
My writing tools are supposed to keep me organised: as well as an online journal, an Open Source word programme and a couple of bits of specialist writing software, I have two or three notebooks for when I’m not online. And yet still I sometimes need to scribble down an idea or a phrase on a scrap of paper.
These scraps are always to hand in the kitchen, cut lovingly from the blank cheeks of envelopes. They are meant for shopping lists and the like but sometimes I use them to jot down a writerly note: an idea that seems essential, a phrase a character needs to say, or just a random thought that has no place yet in any of my current projects.
And yet I don’t always pick them up as the first job the next day. Whatever I’ve written down in note form, I still tend to go with what’s remained in my head. If I can get on with producing actual words for the novel or short story, I’ll always go with that. The scraps accumulate around the area where my writing screen goes and it becomes a task in itself to sort through them.
There were so many recently, I laid them all out and took a photograph.
When I’d done that I sorted them into piles. Most of them were notes for my work-in-progress: a novel about the hole left by the disappearance of The Miller’s Wife (working title, perhaps giving rise to some expectation that as well as being a mystery it’s going to be some attempt at romantic fiction) as well as two short stories I want to write to help towards completing a collection.
Some were just things that struck me as interesting, for instance, a comedian on Radio 4 said that you know someone is working class because they’ll always tell you how much their clothes cost and where they bought them (this long purple cardigan? £5 – Sue Ryder).
I think it was W. G. Sebald who said that it was a good method to note down ideas without attributions so that by the time you came to write them up they would feel like your own. A slightly odd way of working, for an academic, perhaps? It’s been a while since I’ve called myself that, but I’m still keen to know how I know what I know.
Other writers (I’m thinking of a student I once taught, and also Haruki Murakami) let their thoughts pass through like clouds or water, trusting that the important things will remain. I can appreciate the point of this: it saves time on the kind of writerly housekeeping I’ve been talking about here.
For me writing can be elusive, like trying to catch the proverbial wave upon the sand, and so I do write down what passes through my head. If I’m lucky this stream of consciousness becomes part of a first draft. If it’s been written down on a scrap of paper, I put it into my online journal, where it can more easily be found. That’s how I retrieved the beginning of this blog post: with a search for the word ‘scraps’.
We all have to find our own methods of working. Though I sometimes wonder whether I should change mine and avoid this kind of housekeeping. But when the scraps have been attended to, all relevant content logged, and the writing area cleared so I can once again focus on the WIP, it brings me some kind of peace.
What are your favourite writing tools?
As a writer, reader or just in general: how do you feel about getting organised?
Do you have any tips to share?