A junkyard of the mind

Firstly, an apology for the lack of posts recently. I have been unwell, and so unable to properly concentrate on writing (writing anything interesting or coherent that is). I haven’t felt inspired and I haven’t searched out inspiration. My mind felt quite cluttered, and also quite blank at the same time. Such a feeling can happen to writers at any time, in varying degrees, whether they are feeling under the weather or not. Particularly prevalent is the issue of cluttered thoughts – that is where the notebook comes in. In this BBC article, author Lawrence Norfolk looks at the significance of the notebook to a writer, describing it as a “junkyard of the mind.”

A very small selection of my notebooks

“In this repository of failed attempts, different inks speak of widely-spaced times and places, the diverse scrawls of varying levels of calligraphic awkwardness, lack of firm writing-surfaces, different modes of transportation. All the places a good idea might blossom into something bigger and better.”

My blog, of course, is called A Writers Notebook. I started it to help motivate myself, to record my ideas and inspiration, to find and understand good (and bad) writing techniques and provide a forum for others to do the same. An online version of the physical notebook that Norfolk describes, it is here for me, and for blog readers around the world, to make sense of the clutter. Not just the clutter of my own thoughts – there is a lot of info out there, at your fingertips, and the blog goes some way to bring at least a small fraction of that together.

But, of course, I do love a real, proper notebook. I have several (dozen). I’ve written before about how I like to actually write, as opposed to type, using pen and paper, and how it has become part of the editing process for me. So it’s not just a case of having an ideas book – all of my work is accompanied by often more than one notebook. I suppose this method is an attempt to bring some kind of order to the haphazard process of collecting ideas – specific notebooks, however scribbled, relate to specific things.
Some planning for my latest novelWriter’s notebooks are visual representations of inspiration, ideas, moments from life that may just one day prove useful in a writer’s work. My last Authors Top Tips post, on Keeping a Record, was all about the importance of recording these little, seemingly insignificant moments. Norfolk mentions Thomas Hardy, and his several notebooks, one of which was titled “Facts.”

“Here Hardy and his first wife, Emma, noted down incidents culled from local newspapers. One entry (barely three lines long) is headed Sale of Wife. Out of that fragment came The Mayor of Casterbridge.”
Michael Morpurgo 3The visual nature of this record keeping is also significant to me at least. Norfolk talks about how his note taking changed when he switched from little notebooks to larger A4 or A3 sized ones. I personally like my notes to look like organised mess – diagrams and maps and bits stuck or stapled onto the pages and different coloured pens and pencils. This makes each different entry stand out in its own way, so there is no monotony to the process.

The main point is, you never know when an idea might strike, and you never know what, out of everything you have written down, could one day turn into something fantastic – A notebook accumulates its value slowly, line by line and page by page. Like Hardy’s Wife for Sale, who knows what will prove a dead-end and what the inspiration or material for a book? A detail jotted down in two minutes might occupy you for the next three years. A full notebook potentially contains the rest of your writing life. Or nothing of value at all. It is transitional. Work passes through it on the way to becoming something else.”

So now that I am beginning to feel better, I can feel the urge to be inspired returning to me. I will go back to my notebooks and pick up where I left off. I will continue to use this blog to make sense of it all – it might not look it, but this e-notebook is, in reality, a collection of all those thoughts and ideas and concepts that a physical notebook might contain, only slightly neater.


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