To slightly misquote Kate Sanborn, writing is 1% inspiration and 99% hard work.
When inspiration strikes, the world pauses, and the sky lights up. Everything about your story becomes clear, and you walk with a spring in your step for the rest of the day. You don’t need to capture inspiration; it fills your world.
This post isn’t about that 1%. It’s about other 99%, capturing all those little scraps that make up a novel. It’s about preparing the ground in which inspiration can take root.
Capture emotion, not just description
Every writer carries a notebook with them for recording scraps. I still do, but most of my captures nowadays are via the Evernote app on my phone. Why my phone? Because I nearly always have it with me, and because it has a camera.
There’s something about capturing a scene live. Sol Stein said that writing is about communicating emotion. Good writers don’t just describe what scenes look like, they capture the emotions inherent in those scenes. That’s why when I see something interesting, I don’t just describe what it looks like, I describe how it makes me feel.
This is a picture of a tree near my house. I didn’t take the picture because it looked nice, but rather because something about the light and dark made me think of how the seasons were changing and time was passing.
I used Evernote to capture the image. Why? Because pictures just get lost on my camera roll, while saving them as notes means I can write comments beneath the picture itself.
Remember: When making notes, you’re adding emotion, not just description.
Take a walk
For me, the best way to get ideas—the best way to cure writer’s block, for that matter—is to take a walk. I can’t stress enough the importance of taking walks. I’ve written about that here. And here. I’m not the only person to think so, by the way.
Go for a walk and look around. Don’t listen to music; let your mind wander. The ideas will come. Start capturing your ideas—and don’t forget to capture the emotions that come with them.
Using the quick notes widget on Android, I can end up with 40 or 50 notes which I then merge when I get home. Of course, you could add all the ideas to the same note if you prefer.
Walking isn’t only about capturing ideas, it’s a distraction that allows your mind to stop consciously trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Instead, those pieces are left to float free, to be jiggled into place by the subconscious. Writing is about getting to a place where the subconscious can take over. Letting your mind wander free is essential, and walking helps you to do it.
A good walk can produce a lot of notes. Not all of them will relate to the current work in process—these need to be retained and revisited later. Systems such as Zettelkasten are a great way to do this, and you can replicate this to a certain extent by using tags in Evernote.
My writing process
Tags are one of Evernote’s most powerful features. Using tags, I can find all my characters, for example, no matter which story they are a part of. You can read more about my tagging system here.
Every so often, I go through my notes. I tag them by story (for example, #threebears) and by things such as character, beat, and worldbuilding. Once you have all your notes neatly tagged, it’s time to sit down and write that story.
Here’s how Evernote will write your book for you.
Of course, it won’t. Evernote is a productivity app, not a literary bot. No system is going to write your book for you, and that’s a good thing because if there were such a system, then writing would be no fun.
Here’s my real writing process:
I sit down and start writing. I allow the words to flow onto the page while I wait for my subconscious to take over.
My process is all about getting myself to a place where my subconscious can do its own thing. I believe that you should trust in your characters and listen to what they have to say. If you’re following your characters and letting them be themselves, then the story will unfold—maybe not how you want it, but in the way that it wants to go. The trouble comes when you try and force your characters to be what they’re not, when you twist them and make them act in arbitrary fashions to satisfy your initial plot. That’s when the contradictions build up, and the story crashes. If you can see that happening, it’s time to go out for a walk…
Stuck for ideas with NaNoWriMo approaching? Then don’t just sit there. Get out and capture some emotions!