“A writer is a writer because even when there is no hope… she keeps writing anyway.” –Junot Diaz
One thing I’ve noticed as I begin to associate more with other writers is that our processes tend to be wildly different. What one writer does and works so well for her may not necessarily work very well for another. It should not be cause for concern or insecurity. It should not be a superstitious profession–just because Writer A writes chronologically (in a linear fashion from scene to scene) does not mean another writer can or even should work that way. And by all means, don’t adopt a process just because you heard a published author explain this is what he does. It’s only what works for him.
The one true answer is that there IS no right way. There is no write way, either. It’s an art and everyone has their process. It would be so much easier if there was one way to write–if it were some way to fill in the blanks on another writer’s process and presto-bravo, you have a successful piece of work to publish. The process can even change drastically for the same writer from one project to the next.
Writing a novel can be every bit as much a journey as it is a destination. And exploring your process can be every bit as soul-searching as exploring yourself–your motivations, your dreams and your foibles.
All of this to discuss note-taking. I prefaced this post with the discussion of process because I have a good friend who does not take notes because she figures that if she forgets some idea that comes up, that it was probably unimportant or a bad idea anyway. For a while I considered that and purposely did not take notes, hoping it would somehow help my writing or my process.
What I discovered, instead, is that because not taking notes works for her does not necessarily mean it would work for me.
My mind is constantly going and my Muse is constantly dropping bombs on me in the most inconvenient of places. For this reason, I find keeping a little notebook with me absolutely essential.
What do I write in there? Kernals of ideas for scenes, fragments of dialogue that I “hear” in my head (yes, I do have voices in there), names that I’ve come up with, sketches of floor plans or maps of small areas, snippets of research. I’ve pasted visuals and printouts in the notebook. Ideas on writing or quotes I want to remember later for inspiration. Anything I consider noteworthy. Literally noteworthy. As in worthy of my taking note of it.
I recently learned in some training for my day job that we retain 100% of what we learn/hear for the first 24 hours but without taking notes, that information drops down as far as 10% per day to end up somewhere around 2% of the original thing we want to recall at the end of the week. Revisiting notes taken during sessions is essential for learning and retention. Sessions of written reflection are particularly important for adult learners.
Since I do work full time during the day (and even some evenings), I can’t dive for my laptop every time I feel inspired. I must rely on my active imagination during times of boredom to give me the impetus for when I do have the free time to get to my work. I can sit down, page through my notes for the week and see what sparks in me the idea for a scene I need to write.
So an important lesson I’ve learned: learn from the professionals but do not attempt to emulate them. Because my friend, a successful author, does not find note-taking worthwhile for her, does not mean such is the case for me. Lesson learned. See. You can teach an old dog new tricks.