It’s the age-old cliché. A writer with a notepad. Maybe a pencil tucked behind the ear. After all, a writer always needs to jot down ideas as he or she gets them, right?
I’m pretty sure that the only reason I have five published books under my belt is because I’ve spent very little time procrastinating. I don’t have time to write books. I have a crazy busy job. But I’ve written them anyway. I’ve just got on with it. Some authors write thousands upon thousands of words in the form of ideas and preparation notes before actually doing the real book. Me, I do very little preparation. Some, but not a lot. Just enough to convince myself that “I’ve got a book here”, then I sit down at my desktop or laptop computer and type “Chapter 1” (or, more appropriately “#001”, as I write in markdown, which I strongly recommend to all). Then I’m away.
Don’t misunderstand me: many authors say they must do all this “epic planning” for a good reason. There are some truly talented bestselling authors out there who have to write the whole book (in terms of word count) before they start actually writing it. Slightly unrelated, but one of my literary heroes, the late Elmore Leonard, said he wrote about three pages for every finished page you saw. Yes, there are clear exceptions, but I can’t help feel that many use “planning” as a crutch.
Many writers working on their first book write lots of notes. Whenever “inspiration strikes”, they’ll jot down what comes into their heads. Are you doing that? Are you doing it to avoid actually writing the book?
If you do write down every idea as a note, why? Before you write “Chapter 1”, you’ll have to sift through all those notes, and work out how they pertain to the overall idea you had. That’s real work. When you’re at the delicate creative stage, suddenly you’re finding yourself doing paperwork. Ugh.
I’m not so sure about this approach. Every idea you have isn’t some sort of amazing insight that needs to be logged. And as I said in the previous paragraph, jotting down and cataloguing every little idea just means more work later on, pouring over crap. But – some will say – what if one of these ideas is an amazing insight? Why risk forgetting it? Even if it means noting down lots of bad stuff too?
It’s a good question. But I think it’s a debatable point. My memory is terrible, but I’ve learnt one thing that applies all the time: if you come up with a great idea, it’ll stick with you. It’ll keep coming back. It won’t leave you the hell alone. It’ll insist on your attention. It’ll stop you sleeping. It’s a pain in the backside, until you finally do something about it. Trust your instincts. Trust your subconscious. It’ll let you know when an idea is worth your attention. Your good ideas have an ability to keep fighting over the bad ones.
So my advice – which might be wholly useless to you – is don’t keep a notepad around. Or a notes-taking app on your phone or whatever. Notepads are a repository for bad ideas. The good ones stay rattling in your head until they drive you nuts. Let your subconscious sort out the good from the bad for you.
Besides, you don’t have the time to worry about that stuff consciously. You’ve got a book to write.