trying something new

I’ve started using my notebook in a new kind of way. I mean, not revolutionary – I’m still writing words down on blank pages – but still, different than I’m used to.

I *love* pretty notebooks. When it’s time for a new one, I always spend a huge amount of time looking for one that feels right. The problem is, though, when I buy a really beautiful one, or one I really love, either I think it’s too pretty to write in and I put off ever using it. Or I start to get precious about the way I use it. Always one kind of writing, always putting the date in a certain place, trying to keep my writing neat and coherent. And that kind of rigidity can stifle creativity.

I bought my current notebook in a drugstoreĀ for a couple of bucks, right before a road trip. It’s a cheap spiral-bound thing, 200 pages, the kind that’s designed for high school kids. I didn’t want to bring anything precious with me, so this was just going to be a scratchpad. And it turns out that not loading it with any kind of expectations was the best choice ever.

I do actually treat this notebook like a scratchpad. No dates. I jump from one project to another. I scribble down odd sentences and fragments of ideas. I keep lists in there. I jot down quotes that I hear in podcasts. I tear the occasional blank page out to use for a shopping list…

But I’m so much more productive. It’s a great system, particularly when I’m so busy. I don’t need to feel inspired. I don’t need a huge block of time. I can still be creative in the odd minutes that I happen to have.

I stripped away all the ritual around writing and it’s so refreshing.

On Sunday I sat down and typed out the chunks of various projects that have accumulated in there over the last month or so and I was surprised by how much I had. All those little bits and pieces added up!

So I’ve got a new system, at least for the moment. It’s good to shake things up every so often. Although sometimes I think my next notebook will end up being SUPER-beautiful to make up for this…

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a new approach

There is something wrong with the way I approach writing stories.

Or… maybe it’s something wrong with the way I approach storytelling. The problem isn’t with the words exactly, it’s with the structure – or lack thereof – in what I’m writing.

I’m not sure if I’m alone in this – probably not – but when I sit down to start writing, I don’t have a ‘story’ in mind. No conflict, no antagonist. When I sit down to write, what I have is a setting I love, and a tone I want to achieve, and a character. And I splatter them on the page and combine them in various ways, and I wait to see what comes out.

I often find it very difficult to finish stories, which is very probably due to the fact I don’t have a specific journey in mind for the character, be it internal or external. And when I do finish them, I often find that things are done to my character, rather than her doing the things.

My system isn’t a complete failure. I have produced two stories that I’m reasonably proud of. But that’s not a great batting average, and neither has been published yet, so I clearly do still have work to do.

So structure is the thing I’m thinking about now. I’m wondering if it might not be a bad idea to just build outlines for a while, one after another, and get some practice. Learn how to do it properly. Build the correct writing muscles and makes some new habits. So to that end, I’m trolling books and internet sites to try and learn more about the nuts and bolts.

Chumbawamba – Tubthumping

Today’s writing session is brought to you by the song Tubthumping. (Sorry about the earworm.) Also the letters S and H. (Because I grew up with Sesame Street. And also my mother’s obsession with figure skating.)

You get the official music video, because I couldn’t find Scott Hamilton’s victory lap to this song when he returned to figure skating after beating cancer.