This is a very important organ to keep healthy when you are a writer and have many different things to focus on in terms of writing.
I’m not talking about multiple projects; I’m talking about multiple facets of each project you have – drafts, notes, backstory, character bios, emergency rambling/venting/panicking – and having an appropriate place for each of these things is very important. Just like having all of our organs smushed together into one homogeneous mass would not help us very much in terms of functioning, a writer needs specialised areas within which are contained specific functions of writing. And one of these functions, which I almost abandoned last night, which would have been to my detriment, is note-taking.
The thing with the word ‘notes’ is that it’s actually a really broad term for what functions they perform, and in that sense it’s a bit inappropriate. I take notes in a variety of situations:
- When I’m in the middle of writing and an amazing idea comes to mind that I don’t want to lose
- When I don’t know how to approach the bit I want to write and need to generate some options
- When I realise I need to work out what it is that I’m writing because it actually doesn’t seem to make sense
- When I think of interesting character-arcs and interactions
- When I’m freaking out and need to vent
- When I think of an alternative outcome/meaning/direction to what I’ve written and I’m not sure whether it’ll work if implemented right now
- When I think what I’ve just written is horrible and need to rectify it so that I feel like I’m not a worthless writer but don’t want to get in the way of the drafting process because I know objectively that this would be a bad thing
- When I can’t write the story itself and just want to look at backstory or setting or plot or character-motivation or whatever (which usually loosens me up enough to get back to the story)
The thing that they all have in common is that I take notes when my mind is occupied with thoughts that are not the work I’m sitting down to do – writing the manuscript that will constitute the draft. Of course ‘the draft’ does include notes and all the other ‘peripheral’ stuff, but you get the picture. ‘Notes’ are, broadly speaking, anything that is important to your writing performance, whether that’s getting yourself unstuck, or to get an idea or reaction about your writing out of the forefront of your mind so that you feel safe to focus on writing the draft itself. And having a space to panic in safety, without judgment or repercussion, is one of the most important aspects of note-taking for me personally, and I imagine for many other writers as well.
I wrote those notes last night about how horrible my draft was and how to make it all better, and I am very glad that I did – it’s done. Notes are not things that you have to ‘come back to’; they’re things that you write.
And that’s it.
Never look at them again if it serves no purpose; pour over them for weeks on end if that’s what’s helpful – the point is that writing notes serves its own purpose; the purpose of writing notes is to satisfy your urge to write them. That’s an important function, and it’s important to have the capacity to perform each function that is necessary for you to perform as a writer. Different writers need different functions performed, have different particularities, but whatever those functions are, make sure they’re things you have specialised organs to handle the process of.
Using myself as an example: with the first draft of Tallulah, I have a folder entitled ‘Tallulah’. Within this folder, I have several other folders; I have, among others, one for iterations of chapters (if I write a chapter over a number of days, I always create a copy of the document to write from, rather than working from the original, and the same goes for if I have a chapter that I realise I have to re-write some parts of – never throw anything away!), one for finished chapters that I will count towards the completion of the draft, one for character bios and interrelations, one for random ideas I have and can’t be sure of remembering or finding useful later, and one for Emergencies (which is where I wrote my notes last night, because I needed to panic).
Now, for example, the folder that handles both character bios and character interrelations – to be fair, I count them as being part of the same process for a story like this, which is so character-driven in nature that it becomes a bio in and of itself that the only reason there isn’t just one huge document about it is because I want different documents for different character perspectives, or relationships between certain characters that are specific to those characters and not others, but I also don’t really have a devoted folder for character backstory, which I guess I could differentiate for added specialisation – I know that my note-taking needs some work, especially in terms of notes about changes I thought of making but decided to save for later in case they ended up being unnecessary or ‘heat of the moment’ doubts; these are embedded in all sorts of different folders at random, wherever I thought they’d fit best at the time, and that’s something I want to change so that, if I ever do want to find them, it’s easy to do so – listing by date and which chapter they pertain to and so on, so that’s something to do for the next draft.
It’s also part of the reason I haven’t started working on my Little Red Riding-Hood adaptations; I started them years ago and the organs of that project are not quite optimised in terms of their functions. And simply due to the fact that I wanted to jump right in rather than doing preliminary labour, I avoided the project altogether. So that’s why it’s important to have things organised as a writer – it’s not to be a neat-freak, and it doesn’t cripple your spontaneity; it facilitates your creativity by taking the labour out of assigning focus to the various areas that you will end up focusing on while writing. It makes things easier, basically. Yes, it requires work in and of itself, but it’s productive work because of the function it performs: reducing clutter. And if you do it regularly, it’s a net gain in terms of energy saved organising things compared to waiting for ages and doing it all in one go.
So get those organs assigned and organised, if it’s something you’ve been putting off; I’ll endeavour to do that today with LRRH so that one less obstacle is in my way and I get get to work on it, and give myself a distraction. Distraction is so important for focus and perspective; the trick is to use it responsibly and actively – using it, rather than letting it use you.
Because in the end, the trick is to take care of yourself. You have important work to do. Give yourself every advantage that you can in order to get it done.