Scrapbooking for writers

ilonkasscrapbookdesign-783554_1920Leading on from last week’s post about inspiration and ideas, I thought this week I’d mention that I feel it’s useful for a writer to make notes of ideas that could be used for future projects.

Once upon a time I used to buy scrapbooks, and cut and paste – literally not figuratively – scraps into these books to give me resources to use in my writing. I might have stories cut out of the newspaper, programmes from events, pamphlets, photos, anything that looked like it could be useful for generating a story. These were my ‘ideas files’. These days scrapbooks can be virtual rather than actual, Notepad documents or Word documents saved in a folder named ‘Ideas’ on my laptop, but I still do it. On my Kindle Fire, I use Evernote too, which I love, as it can sync with your computer, so you’ve got all the same notes in both places. (I’m sure there is other notemaking software out there 😉 )

I still make notes about all sorts of things: snatches of eavesdropped conversation, the way the sky looked on a particular day, a memory, a description, a character sketch, a question, an unusual word, a news story. These things go in my ideas file until they can be slotted together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Some are assembled to make this picture, others combine to create something different. Some may never used, but who knows? So long as I have them, I have the potential building blocks for a story. If you follow my Facebook page, you will know I have recently been obsessing about surnames, especially women’s surnames: Webster (a female weaver), Brewster (a female brewer), Spinster (you guessed it – a female spinner!) even the word ‘wife’, which may be a corruption of wefen – to weave. (And also the word hussy from husif – a housewife…) These have all come from various sources to be filed and documented and mulled over in my ideas ‘scrapbook’. And when I read a book a while ago, the author had made special mention of a fashion shade popular in the 1890s and 1900s, the name of the colour was Philamot – from the French feuille morte – dead leaves – a disappointingly dingy-sounding colour – but the word conjured ideas and even felt like a possible title or name. All noted for future possible interest.

I find it so useful to keep these little notes and reminders. I have got used to the idea that although I think I will remember something, I never do, so I have to make notes; it’s a bit like leaving myself a trail of breadcrumbs. When I am ready to begin writing, I find it helpful to try a few of these ideas and see which ones seem to fit together, then I stick them all into a Word document, print it up in draft quality, and staple the top of the page to the inside of the cover of the new notebook I’m using for the new story. (I have to have a new notebook, or rather a set of small notebooks, for each new novel, and I always begin to write in longhand, at least in the early stages, even if I end up later moving to the laptop and writing directly onto the screen.) So I have my little ideas ready, I can refer to them, adapt them, and if I don’t use them, they are still saved on the computer for the next new story. To avoid getting too set in my view about how a snippet might be used, I give each one a very broad title or category: ‘1930s or 1940s’, ‘country house type story’, so that ideas can be used in different ways and ‘recycled’ as required.


Don’t look down

The dreaded middle-of-the-book slump.  The urge to give up and get a proper job strikes yet again.  Why am I doing this to myself, I ask.  I sit in front of the keyboard and think, I can’t even remember the names of all these people, what they look like and what they did.  My murderer is too obvious, my victim deserves to be bumped off – whiny, stupid and pushy – the only mystery here is why someone hadn’t bumped her off sooner.

Staying focused is the hard part now.  Some 35,000 words into the book, and I am into self-doubt territory.  The desire to write something new, something easier is strong.  But I have to press on.  This is not the time to listen to voices telling me to stop, telling me what I’m writing is rubbish.  This is not the time to be concerned with quality or to agonise over the aptness of a phrase.

There are ways of coping – mechanisms for dealing with the tough parts of the experience.  I could try Dr Wicked’s Write Or Die, set it on Kamikaze and write, write write, furiously, for the allotted time before the programme deletes my words and they are gone forever.  I may not churn out Proust or Shakespeare, but at least I AM still churning …   anything – even ten words – are better than writing nothing.

I could go for a walk, take some time off, watch TV or read a book, do some chores around the house, I could do ‘research’ – ie sit looking at stuff on the internet.  Just taking a break will renew my energy and strengthen my sense of purpose, so long as I don’t allow myself too much time away.

But then, sooner rather than later, I have to sit down, take up my pen or put my fingers on the keys, and carry on with my story.  I have to believe in my ability to tell my story and believe that it is a story only I can tell.  Mary Wibberley, a British writer of romance novels, wrote a book many years ago which changed my life.  It was the first how-to book I ever read, and it taught me to believe, hope and above all, to write.  It was called ‘To Writers With Love’, and in it she likened the writing process to that of mountain climbing.  Her advice?  “Don’t look down”.

Don’t look down means not stepping back from the ‘problem’ and seeing too big a picture, filling yourself with fear and a sense of something too large to be scaled.  It means keep battling forward, one step at a time, then you will gradually reach your goal.  Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed but move forward, overcoming difficulties one at a time.  So I will battle on, through this Slough Of Despond, until I write those wonderful words that bring such joy and a sense of accomplishment. ‘The End’.