A New Notebook

Three blank pages remain in my current notebook and I’m eagerly writing all I can in order to break out my already-selected, crisp, new notebook.

New notebook, with assorted pen attached

I love paper, and notebooks, and notepads. I have to exercise control in the vicinity of paper shops lest I forget myself in the presence of pretty letterhead and envelopes, sniffing and cajoling the cardboard- or plastic-bound notebooks (I can’t afford leather).

I have collected notebooks for years, lining them up on a bookshelf, the ink-filled ones on one side, the virgin ones on the other. They include notebooks gifted to me nearly twenty years back (I finally filled that one half a year ago – thanks, Maman!), notebooks bought at discount for other people that I then couldn’t give away, and notebooks given away as swag by various companies (thanks, Collège Boréal and Telus!). My current and next notebooks fall in the later category, and include matching pens. Score.

In my notebooks go story ideas, character sketches, name lists, notable quotes, memorable dreams and passages of my current works. Those eventually get transcribed into my computer. Other than that, I prefer handwritten notes, whether in ballpoint pen, pencil or gel pen; re-reading my notes, in hard copy, often inspires me to write more. A virtuous cycle.

What’s in your notebook?

Countering Writer’s Block

Shi– I mean, writer’s block happens. Truth or myth, there will be times when writers struggle to fill the page. There are a few things I do in order to counter this imagination constipation and, no, I don’t mean doing the laundry.

I’ve been known to:

  • Search the internet for weird news items. There are crazy stories out there, just begging to inspire yours. My short story À l’air results from such searches.
  • Open a (yet-unread) book and copy out a sentence or passage. Then, keep writing. Another author’s writing can spur me back to my own project. If opening a book at random doesn’t do it for you, you can find an inspiration-spurring sentence on Twitter or FaceBook.
  • Eavesdrop on the conversations around me. On public transportation, in an elevator, in a restaurant or a café. I’m hard of hearing, so I don’t always catch everything, but that only helps; I can more easily let my imagination take over if I don’t catch the context. What situations do I impose on the words I hear? What characters introduce themselves? This technique can also work while you are part of the conversation, but your friends will have to be understanding if you suddenly dash off to write something down.
  • Keep a dream notebook on my night table. Imagination (and libibo, sure) runs rampant at night. Some plausible scenes and stories can come up in one’s unconscious. It’s worth writing down ASAP in the morning. (The worst thing is not to do so right away, and mourn what one has forgotten. True story.) A few words can suffice. Later, if writer’s block rears its unwelcome head, read your dream notebook to poke at slumbering inspiration. My short story Timothy’s Blanket was inspired by a dream.

These are but a few of my go-to ideas to counter writer’s block. What are yours? Whether they lead to your continuing your current writing or to something new, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is never not to write.


Blank pages

6:27 a.m. Sunday morning.

For the first time in my life, I didn’t need to skip the first page of my notebook before beginning to write. Usually, I feel intense pressure – self-imposed, of course – to write perfection as soon as the new notebook is opened. The blank page before me becons the perfect expression, the well-worded sentence, the cleverest wordplay. Years ago, I decided that the best way for me to avoid writer’s block in front of the first page of a notebook (especially given that I’m the only one who reads its content) was simply to skip it and move on to the next. This way, if ever I do fall upon the perfect sentence, I have a choice spot for it.

But this morning, awakened with a smile at 5:15 a.m., I got up to write about the character I played  in my dream. I filled many pages of my notebook until I had none left. I had to choose a new notebook, which I opened to the first page to continue writing, without hesitation.


My Writers’ Group

Ironically, it is difficult to capture and express how I feel every month when going to meet my writers’ group. I look forward to it for 30 days, I scramble to create or further a piece for my fellow writers, I both anticipate and dread their feedback. Led by the joyful Sophie, we gather in a coffee shop – occasionally the Green Beanery, lately Urbana Coffee (which is great, a block from my home) – and dish about writing: the fiction, the nonfiction, the technical, the non-existent. And whether or not each of us brought a piece to share, we enjoy the company, the kinship, the renewal of confidence, the knowledge that we are not struggling with the muses alone. We leave the oh-too-short meets elated, reinvigorated, and, for myself, already beginning to compose the piece to share next month.

If only I had a French writers’ group, too.