Adding up the scribbles

I hadn’t written a word for weeks.  Granted, there were a few scribblings here and there: jottings on the back of a shopping list; scrawled phrases on a post-it; the odd page or two of disjointed notes.  Not real writing.  So I told myself, and I didn’t enjoy the telling.

Then I gathered them all together.  I began to type them up, expand them, string them together.

Um, I still haven’t finished.  The scribbles add up, you see.  They are the writing, quite as much as the hours spent at the desk.  Probably more so, because they aren’t punctuated by long periods of staring into space and reading other people’s words.

And although I’d already learnt that the scribbles add up to something bigger, I was fortunate enough to receive validation from elsewhere in the same week.  Mother’s Milk Books have awarded one of my pieces a Commended in their recent competition.  Cue much rejoicing!

I tell you this because it illustrates the point beautifully.  You see, I remember when I wrote the beginnings of that piece, and it wasn’t at my desk or even in the house.  I was tramping the fields in my wellies, watching the crows wheeling overhead and thinking about circles.  I’ve learnt to keep a tattered notebook and a pencil in my coat pocket on these walks, and I kept stopping and adding another phrase, another image.  What they were going to become I wasn’t sure, but I kept scribbling all the same.  (By the way, it’s always a pencil, never a pen.  Pencils don’t run out or leak in your pocket.)

And those images became a piece I was proud of, a piece that someone else enjoyed.  They were real writing, after all.

Yes, we need time to mould the jottings and the scribblings into their final form, but we can always be writing, wherever we are.  Mud optional.

Digressions are beside the point

I’ll get to the point in a minute.  But first I have to digress.  (Is it a digression if you do it before you’ve started on the other subject?  A pre-digression maybe.  And what do you call a digression when you’re digressing from a digression?  Which might not have been a digression in the first place if you hadn’t started yet…)


I had a pile of post-its which then became a neat list of subjects for blog posts.  I have another neat list of chapter headings and subjects for other projects.  A kind of collection of inspirations.  Every time I come to a point where I need to decide on the next writing direction, I look at my lists.

Then, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I go and write something entirely different.

It’s like cooking.  I look in the recipe books for dinner inspiration.  For hours sometimes.  Then I either make one of my tried-and-tested fall-back meals, or something which is kind of loosely based on a recipe I’ve read, but made with an entirely different set of ingredients using an entirely different method.

Is it that inspiration that isn’t used immediately goes stale?  Or is it that most of the ideas which seem good ones in the moment actually turn out to be a bit rubbish on closer inspection?  Do I not keep detailed enough notes of what the inspiration actually was?  Should I just bite the bullet and start writing about the subject to see if I can breathe life back into it?  Am I just undisciplined?

I’d be interested in your answers to any of those questions that takes your fancy, but, in my case, I think my inability to use my notes is often related to the old writing chestnut, “show, don’t tell.”

When I consciously think about what I want to write about, I seem to go into “telling” mode.  I want to give a message about something, share some kind of insight – basically, tell the reader something.  And that’s what my notes often are: summaries of the message.  But writing only comes alive for me when I have a story to tell.  So, when I look at my notes all I get is a dry lesson.  No wonder I wander off topic and tell you today’s pressing story instead. Perhaps I need to start writing my notes as mini-stories.

This was going to be a post about digital books versus paper ones.  I’ve been going to write it for ages – mostly because I once said I would.  But I’ll save it until there’s a story to tell about it.  Today, all I can offer you is one long digression.