Friday, March 20, 2015

your writer's notebook?

Do you keep a writer's notebook?

A notebook is an essential tool for remembering great phrases and paragraphs you read. I've kept one for years and thumbing through it reminds me of the books I've read and loved. Actually writing things down by hand helps it stick in your brain too.

[It was when I found myself writing things from TRICKSTER in my notebook that I first fully realized what an extrordinary writer Jeff Somers is.  Don't ever tell him of course. We like to torture him with wry observations about his character and cats, not confuse him with compliments.]

Two things I added to my notebook yesterday came from Evan Lewis's new story in the upcoming May 2015 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Judging by the old man's hands, I'd have tagged him at sixty. The confidence and economy of his movements might shave ten years from that, but the truth was in his eyes.  Those eyes had seen Lincoln shot and Caesar stabbed, and were probably watching when Cain killed Abel.  Now they were watching me.

I fished for a way to begin. "How well do you know Portland?"
The Old Man's shoulders rolled in a noncommittal way. "We've cuddled," he said, "but never kissed."

What's the most recent thing you've written in your writer's notebook, or jotted down to remember as great writing?


Unknown said...

I have as many notebooks as you have pens. Totally unorganized and full of very important stuff that I must remember.

The latest doodling are notes about my upcoming Writers Digest Boot Camp for Agents coming up on Monday. I fervently hope to get the agent I requested so I've been stalking her. I've read every interview in which she has ever participated, to the point she's going to think I'm related.

Susan Bonifant said...

I don't know a writer who doesn't do this.

Yesterday, I saw a guy in pick-up waiting for someone to come of a store. He was a big, agreeable looking guy, about seventy. I wrote: "head like an egg, face rimmed with white fringe, no moustache. Looks like one of the elder Whos."

He'll show up somewhere, I know.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Darlings I simply cannot forget, so I write them down rather then lose them in the computer.

I peeled the paper from the lollypop and stuck it in my mouth. It tasted like childhood.

“Rail passengers are the salt of the earth,” my father always said, “bus passengers, pepper,”, he was both.

This is shameless promotion from my latest WIP, STANDING IN FRONT OF SEPTEMBER.

Kitty said...

I keep a running list (on my computer) of words and phrases. The last thing I posted was: "...the noisy kids spreading like a bag of spilled marbles..." from "The Devil in Her Way: A Novel," by Bill Loehfelm.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Two of mine:

Loss is more than just death, and grief is the gray shape-shifter of emotion.


"The hostas have been staging a coup."

Rachel and Mark said...

Since 2Ns self promoted:

“I have never seen anything quite so pathetic as you in all my life,” says a voice by the door in a clean, crisp, Britishy accent. “Drowned rats possess better form. I should think the humane thing to do would be shoot you and put you out of your considerable misery.”

“Where were you twenty minutes ago? I probably would have let you.”

(From the first chapter of one of my unfinished projects)

Kitty said...

Make way for shameless self-promotion: The pasture was an obstacle course of oozing manure boils.

Unknown said...

Not a journal per se but a review of every book I’ve read. That, and an ongoing list of words or phrases I find especially beautiful or intriguing; the last being ‘susurrus.’ I love the sound of that word.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

One thing I jotted down was an image that struck me from a dream - a suitcase jutting from the sand, lapped at by the sea. I used it in a flash fiction piece called UNDERTOW.

I also came across a wonderful quote on a blog - "Everything you want is on the other side of fear." (Jack Canfield) I wrote it down, but I probably need to paint it in giant letters on a wall - I could use the reminder to not be such a big chicken. :)

Dena Pawling said...

I have a notebook and pen in my car, by my bed, and in my purse. I have several computer files with killed darlings, notes for blog topics, and ideas for future stories. I also use the “notes” icon on my phone for when I'm in court and something blog-worthy or MS-worthy occurs, or I have a blinding flash of brilliance. I have a photo album on my phone of interesting buildings and other sights that I find while out and about.

I've read the idea that writers should also keep a 9x12 envelope for interesting newspaper clippings and other similar. I haven't done that yet [I've been transcribing the ideas into my phone or into a notebook] but it's definitely a good idea so in the near future I'll probably start one.

The most recent thing I've "written" is a photograph I took just outside a courthouse. The tallest, thinnest palm trees I've ever seen, growing in a wind corridor so they've grown with bent trunks. They look like they're dancing together to an unsung tune.

Craig F said...

On my third edit, the one making sure the characters were well grounded at all points, I changed tact.

I searched out obscure song lyrics and refrains. I stuck a particular piece in the corner of my mind for each character. I wanted some cadence for each of them. No, I did not use the Jaws theme at any point. Hopefully it is just a subtle undercurrent.

I did this after getting a "query widely" (maybe you will find a sucker) response from the one big person I have so far queried.

DLM said...

I don't do this in hard copy, but this is one of the few areas in which my wee and paltry little brain serves me with aplomb. A great line stays with me without writing it down, and with movies/TV, a great line *reading* will stick with me forever. I can hear actors' voices eternally, sometimes even beyond recall of the program in which I heard a plummily-dropped word.

My writing is dependent upon rhythm, so I can feel my own readings in my work. One of mine that has really become part of my life is, "To be the queen, she agreed to become the widow!"

It's the bargain we all make, in one way or another.

I've been given little journals and notebooks many a time. I've given some back, having written personal pieces for the giver, in them. But I've never used them to capture things like this.

I am also a voracious re-reader. And sometimes the power of something that meant one thing to me at one age, becomes entirely new - even as it re-invokes that past emotional experience.

Colin Smith said...

The only notebook I keep is for story ideas. I don't carry a notebook around with me to take down favorite passages or phrases from books, or to jot down descriptions of people and places. Which doesn't mean I'm not paying attention. In my head I'm thinking about how I would describe these things. I just don't commit those thoughts to paper. Maybe my writing suffers for not doing this? I don't know. It certainly seems to work for a lot of people.

Self-promotion? My query's out on my blog. And if you want to read an excerpt from that novel, visit HERE (notes: 1) the novel was in the editing stage at the time of that blog post, but this passage didn't change much; 2) my MC's an alien, but she's telling people she's from Sweden).

InkStainedWench said...

"Cain killed Able"?


*grabs red pen, makes little squiggle fix*

Cindy C said...

I've always kept a notebook for quotes I like, although for some reason I've done this less in recent years. I think the ease of Googling a phrase or line allows me to think, well, I can find it again if I need to. I need to get back to writing them down. Googling really isn't the same.

I did actually write something this week--piece of a song lyric from "Blood" from Allison Moorer's new cd (which I HIGHLY recommend:

A candle on the windowsill,
Burning bright, burning still,
Leads you home and lights the way
There today like yesterday
And you don't have to explain
I've got your blood running in my veins

Janet Reid said...

Ack indeed! Thanks for the squiggle InkStainedWretch!

Colin Smith said...

Janet: Do you prefer AHMM over EQMM, or do you get them both? If you have a preference, why? Yes, completely off-topic, but I've been collecting EQMM for years (there are often some very good short stories), and didn't know if I should give AHMM a try.

DLM said...

SiSi, nice quote. About 29 years ago a friend gave me this one (to this day I'm not sure whether she wrote it or was quoting a poet) ...

You are a pain in my head
You make my battery go dead
You cut the string on my kite
You are such a pretty sight


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I know to both grieve and honor all that's over - a necessary step, it seems, on this fumbling journey toward what is meant to be.
Magical Journey, Katrina Kenison

Unknown said...

As the mom of 2 teens, my phone is always in sight as I am forever waiting for someone to text saying she is ready to be picked up, telling me what time to pick her up or asking why I am late picking her up. (Answer- because I'm writing!)

So rather than a notebook I use the Notes feature on my iPhone, which links to the same feature on my iPad mini which links to the Notes feature on my laptop. Teenager #1 set this up for me.

I am a collector of verbs. Every I hear or read what I call a "great verb" I type it into my Note. I don't believe a single verb can be copy righted to I feel free to use them in my own writing.

Since I write YA I also keep a Note on "Things Teenagers Say". It has phrases like: Get over yourself. Sucks to be you. Cringeworthy.

Anonymous said...

*Slides wood paneled door open, then shut. The sound within the Writer's Confessional causes momentary panic and my mouth becomes a tightened little dust bowl, my hands grow as slick and slimy as pond scum. I hear the slurpy noises of the giant water dwelling creature on the other side of the panel. I train my eyes to not look towards the huge black eye I know must be glinting at me through the cross hatched wood separator. I close my own eyes and begin this writerly confession.*

"I do not own any notebooks. Wait. I take that back. Yes, I do.

*nervous laughter ends abruptly at violent sloshing sound.*

"Well, there's a lie right at the beginning. How's about a do-over? No? Keep going? I'll assume the snapping of teeth means yes. Well, it's a rather nice journal, red leather, gold edged, but, I hated it. I hated jotting stuff in it. I never liked what I wrote, any of it. So, I stopped. I mean, most days I just write, and when I need inspiration, I open books in a like genre from my bookshelves and read a few passages. And since I'm still in the confessional here, I honestly feel I have so much reading to keep up with b/c of stuff I'm following and finding at random, it's almost impossible to peruse a notebook of my own scribbles to fine a nugget. What? You don't care as long as I write - every day? Get out and let the next squid in? Great! Phew. Alrighty then."

*Slides door open. Eyeballs the next quivering squid.*

"Don't worry, well, maybe a little."

Colin Smith said...

Donna: If you didn't pick it up from my first comment, I'm basically in the same boat as you. Or the same confessional. Well, okay, I'm the squid right after you. From what I gather, those booths aren't very big so it would be hard for me to be in the same confessional. And that would defeat the purpose of the confessional anyway. It's supposed to be private, between you and the Shark--I mean Priest--so sharing your booth with someone other than said Shark--I mean Priest--would be counterproductive. Kind of like posting your confession on Janet's blog, which is viewed by fish and woodland creatures the world over... ;)

But I digress. My point? Wait... it'll come to me... oh yes. I'm with you on the notebook thing. :)

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

I used to do this when I was much (much) younger. No notebook, but my school folders. Not just quotes, but words that I really liked.I still have them. Great memories. Great quotes. I kind of wish I'd kept it up. I wonder how I can get myself back into the habit of it, except do it digitally and in ways I can glance at them again? It seems there are all kinds of pic-collage type apps/sites out there to help gather this kind of thing if I emailed them to myself, right?

Ideas for sites/apps like this that any of y'all use?

I rather love the Lewis quote in the OP. Nice choice to use as an example.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Karen Diamond, an amazing young woman and a beyond-talented writer, shared two quotes with her blog readers when she knew her battle to survive was near over. In my writer's notebook and on my desk, I have tattooed those quotes to my soul in the hope that I may assign their sentiments to my own life. I try, I really do, but sometimes I fail because wanting more, often stands taller than the mountain of what I already have.
The quotes, the first by Joseph Campbell and the second, an edited form, ascribed to Buddha.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to live the life that is waiting for us.”
“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

Karen, my son-in-law’s sister, was 27 and very wise to share with all of us these answers to human existence. I am privileged to have known her.

Anonymous said...

Hey Squid #2, I mean Colin, yes, I read your "confession," and now wonder what Susan Bonifant thinks of us?


Steve Forti said...

One thing that always stuck with me was incredibly simple. I was at a talk Dennis Lehane was giving a few years ago, and he was chatting about his local Dorchester bar, and one guy who hung out there. Everyone simply called him Glory Days instead of his real name, since he only ever talked about how cool he was back in high school. I thought that simple nickname was both powerful in that it told you everything you needed to know about the man, and hilarious. I was very happy to see it make its way into The Drop.

That said, I always love when some phrase or mood pops into my head and plays over and over like some Top 40 earworm until I simply MUST write it down. Those are usually my best triggers for new story inspiration.

Susan Bonifant said...

Last week, I spoke for the universe, this week I exaggerated. Next week, I'll probably leave another FB comment on the wrong status.

Status: "Why is (something about the balance of news reporting in the Times)?"
Me: "Plain White Ts did that song."

Anyway, I MEANT that writers I know keep track of observations, conversations they overhear etc., but not necessarily in journal/notebook form.

I for example, use post-its. They're everywhere in my house, car, etc

Karen McCoy said...

2Ns, Karen Diamond sounds amazing.

I have a notebook for quotes like these, as well as rough outlines of story ideas. Here are some that come to mind:

"Every time you practice or attempt something, you are succeeding at getting better--not failing to be perfect." -Cary E. Krix

"I'm not afraid of storms, I'm learning to sail my ship." -Louisa May Alcott

But I'm going to start doing this with books I read, and find the brilliant quotes in them too. Should have done it with Fault in Our Stars-- there are tons in there. I think my favorite was something along these lines:

"Time is a slut, isn't she? She screws everybody."

Christina Seine said...

What a timely post for me! All these great lines pop into my head while I'm in the shower or in church or driving or cooking dinner, and I tell myself I'll remember them. Then I sit down at the computer and NOTHING. Even the crickets stare balefully at me (hashtag: #judging you). I've been telling myself to just get a stinking notebook and write it down. I do have pages of things like this on my computer (yay Excel!) but not in "real life."

Even though I don't write mystery, I adore Alfred Hitchcock. They had a bunch of the old half-hour shows on Netflix last month, and the whole family got into watching them. I love the juxtaposition of his low-key, British-y, utterly NOT-intimidating demeanor (he’s a bit of a hedgehog) against the horror and suspense of the episodes he’s presenting. Granted, these are TV and not books, but story is story and oh my golly the suspense!

I’m currently reading LILA by Marilynne Robinson, and let me tell you the text is so heartbreakingly beautiful at times that I need to stop and re-read certain passages, just for the thrill it sends down my spine. I also just updated my blog (shameless promotion: (Colin, help!) and was searching for a quote to go in the header thingie. It was so hard to choose just one quote, between incredible storytellers like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou and Stephen King and Joss Whedon (“We've done the impossible, and that makes us mighty” and “Also, I can kill you with my brain”).

Still, today I’m gonna run right out and buy me a notebook. And because it’s Friday and I can still only eat soft foods, a chocolate donut. Janet practically ordered it.

Colin Smith said...

Here's Christina's blog:

And if the picture on yesterday's post doesn't inspire the horror-inclined, I'm not sure what would. In fact, that would make for a great horror story prompt. :)

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

When I read, I think, "This writer keeps a note book and jots down details." I'm sure Bill Cameron does. I've read only one of his books.

My English teacher in art school obliged us to keep notebooks and write daily entries. I have ever since, that was thirty years ago. I even have a few pink moleskins. It's fun to go back and see what I wrote or drew. Now I'm detaling actions people do as characterization studies and re-writing scenes. Details from places like how many sounds and smells happening at one time are great to record.

One thing I noticed in Somers's writing is the sensation he describes in the mouth. I'd never thought about that. No cliches there.

Christina Seine said...

Thank you Colin!

That guy is huge, isn't he! Sadly though, what's horrifying is the way they processed them, at least back in the sixties, in the early days. I did a lot of research on this for my WIP, which takes place in Alaska in 1964, and basically they just had a big saw running and the guys on the line sawed off each leg and tossed the center (the main body) in the trash. The crabs had to be kept alive during this time, because the moment they die, they begin to emit a toxin that can taint the entire batch.

Made me glad I'm not a crab.

Well, most of the time. =)

Colin Smith said...

Christina: So the King-esque story inspired by your picture would be called...

"Crab's Revenge"


Christina Seine said...

@Colin - "She said she wanted to hold me but I could tell she was just trying to butter me up. She wanted to draw me out of my shell, but I told her to cut it out."

Adib Khorram said...

I have several notebooks that I keep scattered around to take note of excellent voice in the books I read, but I always type them up later into a single document on my computer so I can search it later.

The last thing I wrote down was a passage from Maggie Stiefvater's THE RAVEN BOYS. Granted, I could have just typed out the entire novel...which I will probably do at some point.

Writer of Wrongs said...

From An Unquiet Mind (Note: not my own...) by Kay Redfield Jamison
"I decided early in graduate school that I needed to do something about my moods. It quickly came down to a choice between seeing a psychiatrist or buying a horse. Since almost everyone I knoew was seeing a psychiatrist and since I had absolute belief that I should be able to handle my own problems, I naturally bought a horse. Not just any horse, but an unrelentingly stubborn and blindingly neurotic one, a sort of equine Woody Allen, but without the entertainment value."

The completely out of left field comparison of a horse to Woody Allen--and then to give the final dum to the ba-da- by adding the caveat "without the entertainment value" struck me as brilliant. A wonderful reminder to think beyond cliche. It's worth it.

LynnRodz said...

So hard to choose, but one that I love by Kahlil Gibran:

"She wore a cloak of deep sorrow through her life, which increased her strange beauty and dignity, as a tree in blossom is more lovely when seen through the mist of dawn."

LynnRodz said...

Speaking of Woody Allen, two of my favorites quotes of his are:

"Life is full of misery, loneliness and suffering - and it's all over much too soon."

"I'm not afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens

And since I'm quoting Woody Allen, why not Winnie the Pooh?

What day is it?" asked Pooh.

"It's today," squeaked Piglet.

"My favorite day," said Pooh

Sorry, Janet, I don't just jot down great writing in my writer's notebook, I include quotes I love as well.

Colin Smith said...

Since I'm one of the shlubs who doesn't keep a notebook of book quotes, the ones I remember tend to be very memorable. One of my favorite lines is this:

"The White Witch? Who is she?

"Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It's she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!"

I've always thought that description of Narnia at the beginning of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, "Always winter and never Christmas" says so much about the state of affairs, but physically, and emotionally. Genius. As one who is prone to verbal overload, this kind of economy of expression really impresses me.

Colin Smith said...

*both physically and emotionally...

Ashes said...

I've been reading The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, which has some beautiful writing. These are not examples of that. What I tend to write down, and I'm not sure why, are mostly mundane phrases that strike me for reasons I can't justify. Today there were three.

"Chapped lips"
"Hands that smelled like cedar"
"Running barefoot through the mud"

Bonnie Shaljean said...

I've done this ever since I can remember, from early childhood (I've still got some of that stuff). And - like most of the people here - I never go anywhere without a notepad. I also have a commonplace book, full of other people's writings that speak to me - poems, prose fragments, found things, song words (fave is: "She had to have something flash every time she smiled"). Latest entry is a portion of an Amazon customer review, which I nabbed for an acute observation on life, not for his opinion of the book in question.

I carry a home-made refillable spiral notebook (I have a coil-binding machine) and then store stuff in loose-leaf ring binders. The contents comprise a jolly assortment of clippings, typed sheets, scribbles, photos and drawings. I also keep a special graveyard section, as the final (or not-so-final?) resting place for all those murdered darlings. Stops them rising up and haunting me.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

Ahh, just seen where Janet asked us for examples. I've been carrying this one around since high school:

In everything that yields gracefully there must be resistance. Bows are beautiful when they bend only because they seek to remain rigid. Rigidity that slightly yields, like justice swayed by pity, is all the beauty of earth. Everything seeks to grow straight, and happily, nothing succeeds in so growing. Try to grow straight and life will bend you.

G. K. Chesterton

Hippocampus said...

Closet full of crazy pants.

Anonymous said...

Oh. My. Where's the LIKE button for all the beautiful and accurate word picture phrases given here?

JulieWeathers said...

What marvelous lines you all have. I shall return with some of my favorites in a bit, but I thought I'd share a notebook entry about a horse trader in FAR RIDER II.

People who didn't know horse trader Jetreid would think she also had been eating the infamous root. She lounged against a cart wheel, eyes half closed, with a long, curved pipe in one hand and a crystal glass half full of whiskey in the other. Jet was a minimalist, but she had an appreciation for a few things: good tobacco, good whiskey, good horses, and the two glasses that had been given to her mother as a wedding gift.

JulieWeathers said...

Good gravy, yes, I have notebooks. I have totes of them. I got in the habit when I was pregnant with my youngest son, Will. I was in tremendous pain, but didn't want to take any medication for it as there was a good chance he'd be born early. I wrote to take my mind off the pain. These days I use the notebooks mostly when I'm babysitting Will's babies, so it's been a while. I have totes filled with notebooks.

Cows drinking their reflections--I can't remember who wrote it, but that description always stuck with me.

The evening sky was streaked with purple, the color of torn plums,--James Lee Burke NEON RAIN Burke really does have a wonderful way with words.

How do you explain to yourself the casual manner in which you threw your life away? James Lee Burke SWAN PEAK

The trees group themselves differently; they draw closer together, as if in fear. The very silence has another quality than the silence of the day. And it is full of half-heard whispers, whispers that startle - ghosts of sounds long dead.--Ambrose Bierce

But just then, for that fraction of time, it seems as though all things are possible. You can look across the limitations of your own life, and see that they are really nothing.--Diana Gabaldon OUTLANDER

Too soon the gleaming brass buttons on crisp uniforms tarnish. Feet that marched smartly to a vibrant, tattooing, drumbeat grow weary and plod from one battle to another, scuffing up puffs of dust or sucking through mud deep enough to bury a good-sized mule and wagon. The days of family picnics on the hillsides as opposing armies gathered below to deal death were long over and the reality, the work, of war had set in. --My Civil War wip. Written in the babysitter notebook.

The wounded and dying lay scattered among the dead. Some still had enough strength to crawl off the field, seeking help. In the blue moonlight their heaving forms inched, like worms, through the debris that had been their comrades and enemies just hours before until the ground itself seemed to writhe.--Bedside notebook. It's one of those scenes you have when you first wake, but your mind is still in the twilight.

Nature's magic is always strongest in the gloaming. The gatherers know it. The wraiths who hunt them know it.--Another bedside notebook bit.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

What that horse trader JetReid doesn't want you to know is, she once bought two sheep. Yes, she did. Hee hee hee


JulieWeathers said...


Shhhh, she tries to keep that quiet. She'd been imbibing a little too much whiskey at the time.


Sarah said...

I have a pretty notebook or two that I keep, and a tinier notebook in my purse. And the notes function on my phone--where would we be without THAT?

I like quotes an awful lot.

"Love built on lies is an arduous endeavor." --okay, I totally stole that one from Revenge the TV show.

Chippy said...

I keep a notebook and pen in my bag to write down story/character ideas... and names I like the sound of.

For example in my notebook at the moment there are 2 different combinations of names that I think would be good names for law firms.

The last thing I wrote was a zombie story idea about 5 minutes ago


Evan Lewis said...

Quite a coincidence, Janet. I have those two lines in my notebook, too.