General advice from all of the writing courses I have attended is that the serious writer should keep a writer’s note book. This is to keep with you at all times – yes, next to the bed at night – and to be used to take notes that could be useful on later writings.
So what sort of things should you record? In my view, it can be anything. A good starting point is to keep diary entries.
I’m not suggesting pages and pages for each day lived, but short reminders of what happened in a given day and any noteworthy items. For example, yesterday I took my daughter to a training session in advance of her starting a new job. She hasn’t her own transport and due to railway maintenance and a poor bus service it would have been very inconvenient and time consuming to travel by public transport. So Dad was the taxi service.
Having dropped her off I wanted to buy some picture frame moulding which is increasingly difficult to buy from retail sources unless you go online and pay something like a £50 minimum order charge. I found a supplier in a nearby city and drove there. The chap on the counter was having a bad day and complaining under his breath of everything that was wrong with his job. Having successfully purchased the moulding, I dropped of the consignment at home and stayed there until it was time to pick up my daughter. I dropped her off home, drove back to my house and spent an uneventful evening.
All in all a pretty mundane day, but if I had been practising what I’m preaching now, and made some entries in my writer’s notebook, I could have recorded:
- A number of brief character sketches. Observing people throughout the day can be a great source of ideas for characters in your writing:
- The smartly dressed and immaculately made-up woman I saw when dropping off my daughter who smiled at me when she got in her 4×4 – who was she, why was she dressed so well, where was she going, where had she been?
- The secretary at my daughter’s new company – her physical appearance, her attitude to us on arrival (which was very friendly), her helpfulness.
- The man at the counter of the picture frame company – his physical appearance (a very big man on the corpulent side), his displeasure at being in his job, his attitude (which was great to me, but not giving a good account of his company).
- Another customer in the shop who was very demanding and behaving on the edge of rudeness.
- Notes on how people feel when starting a new job – their nervousness, concerns, anticipation.
- Notes on difficulties in using public transport and the effects this can have on people’s lives.
- Notes on the frustrations of not being able to find local suppliers or tradesmen.
- Notes on how you feel when you are bored (which I was for some reason last evening).
All of these notes could then have been catalogued and filed for the future.
Other things to record could be:
- Quotes: These can often give you ideas for your writing. For example, one of my favourites quotes is by Henry Ford – “Whether you think you can or think you can’t you’re right”. This quote could prompt a story, for example, about a person’s transition from a negative to a positive frame of mind.
- Plot outlines: You may come up with a random thought on what would make a good story so write a plot outline in your notebook.
- Recording conversations: You often hear other people talking to each other so if there is something of particular interest record a snippet of the dialogue.
- Recording random facts: Often, when reading a newspaper or magazine or listening to the radio or TV you will come across an interesting fact. For example, I was fascinated to hear recently a story about a chap who pushed a sprout up a mountain with his nose to raise money for charity. So what else could the imagination conjure about fundraising that would make a good story.
- Images: Cut out pictures that appeal to you and paste them into your note book.
- Flashbacks: Record notes when you get random memory flashes about things that have happened to you in the past. For example, I recently remembered a tale about my grandfather who used to extract metal splinters from work colleague’s eyes. I’m not sure how I’ll use this one, but who knows!
The above represent just a few ideas of what could be included in your writer’s note book. Just let your imagination run riot. As already mentioned, it also pays to have some sort of cataloguing and filing system so you can get back to the notes you have made. Perhaps a topic for another day.
Have you got a writer’s note book and, if so, what do you record in it? Have you any tips for other writers?