Story ideas tend to come to me in one of two distinct ways. The first, and my obvious favourite, is when they just drop into my mind almost whole. I’ll be pondering a vague idea and suddenly an almost completely plotted short story just lands in my head. In these cases, if I can get two or three hours to type, I can get a first draft done in one sitting.
But the second, more frustrating way is when I only get a vague concept and have to spend time brainstorming and hammering the idea into shape over several drafts.
To this end I always try to carry my notebook with me. It’s nothing special. Just a simple A5 moleskine writers notebook. I’ve had my current one for almost six years now. It’s getting a little tatty, and it’s filled with ideas, brainstorms, early drafts, plans, and to-do lists from a whole host of projects; from stories, set designs for shows I’ve done, and even as far back as my wedding speech.
I have discovered that my thought processes works far better if I am able to write as I go. My brain finds it much, much easier to hold an string of ideas together if some of them have been put on paper as I go. I don’t have the greatest memory and if I’m following a train of thought I need to be able to remember each stop it makes along the way, no matter how rambling and disjointed the journey may have been. Having my thoughts there on the paper lets me see the entire process and, ironically, lets me keep the whole picture in my head far better than if I had actually kept them in my head.
And I find it much easier by hand. While I can use a computer or tablet I just don’t get the same clear flow of ideas. I think this is because I didn’t grow up typing in the same why I did writing. While nowadays I type far more often than I write by hand, I think it still takes up too much of my brain’s processing power. Pen on paper also gives me a freedom a computer doesn’t. I am able to write in any size, shape or position as and when I feel like. I can squeeze notes in between other lines of writing. While there are several note taking programmes on my Kindle that are remarkably good, none of them will ever come close to the pure, freeform freedom of pen on paper.
It’s not that I can’t work without it. It’s just that my brainstorming is noticeably slower without it. And yes, while I could do that on any old piece of paper, I like the concept of having everything in one place. I know if I have my notebook I have any notes I’ve made. It’s just simpler and easier.
It’s a weird thing to think about, how you use a notebook, but I suppose that it’s good to think about your methods and processes every so often, so you can work and improve of them. So, in summary: everyone needs a good, familiar notebook.