Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Notebooks: where stories are born

This past Monday, in anticipation of the U.S. election media freakshow, I committed to a two day internet black out. I still had email, and maybe that's cheating, but the point is I didn't tweet, Facebook, wiki, tumblr, YouTube, CBC, Cracked, Onion for two whole days. Let me tell you what happens when you sever yourself from the massive decentralized information network that you've grafted your brain to.

1. You look outside to see what the weather is like.

2. You wonder if people you don't know will care or notice that you haven't tweeted what you ate for breakfast.

3. You decide to read, and become annoyed when your interest is piqued by the mention of a Russian tradition called 'Green Week' and you aren't allowed to wiki it. 

4. You watch TV and wonder if Stana Katic (Castle) is pregnant because she's wearing puffy shirts and you can't check to see if it's true. (FYI, she's not)

The other thing I did was dig out a tattered stack of coiled notebooks. I read through, oldest to most recent. There were notes for stories I've written and since published, stories half-finished and languishing in hard drive hell, ideas for stories I may never write at all, and   lots of bizarre, unclassifiable stuff.

One page is entirely blank, but for the following. "I don't smoke. Well, I do…but only when I binge drink." To my knowledge I've never used that line anywhere. But hey, I still might.

I've also got notes going back five years for a novel I'm working on now. Reading those early notes reconnected me with the germ of the story. The idea in situ. Sure, the writing is wretched and I appear to be using an alien style guide for comma usage, but there's a crackling energy embedded in that sloppy scrawl. I remember the words pouring out of my brain faster than my hand could take them down.

I didn't write at all during my internet blackout, but I learned something about my creative process. Coiled notebooks are where my ideas take their first gasp of outside air, where my characters take their first steps. There are all kinds of unrefined goodies that pour out when I put pen to paper. I think I'll unplug more often.


  1. I went old school during my last writers block and it was the best us of time that I have ever had. I thought when I had finished 3 chapters of writing that this is how Walt Whitman or Dr. Suess may have felt. Before I did this exercise I found the whole pen to paper idea rather passe, now I think if I am stuck again or just to change things up, I will continue "old school" writing every once in a while, it was very cathartic and energizing. I hadn't noticed that I had written for 6 hours straight and had more coming out of me than ever before. I agree UNPLUGGING is an awesome way to go.

  2. Excellent reminder that tuning out helps...that putting pen to paper is different than placing fingers on a keyboard.