A Writer’s Little Black Book

Every writer should have a “little black book”. Mine’s brown faux leather, slightly larger than my wallet (though not as George Costanza thick) and lined. I’ve picked up some replacements because they were only two dollars but they weren’t lined and I’ve had to cut out a thicker piece of cardstock from the back and draw lines on it. I can’t write a straight line on a blank piece of paper if my life depended on it (and that idea goes in the little brown book). That’s what the book is for; ideas. You need to have an idea book.

“Why?” you ask. Because ideas may be coming to you like crazy right now but there will come a day when the pressure is on to think of one and it just won’t come. It hides in the corner of your brain. It’s shy, you see, and you want to bring it out to show to everyone. It helps if you have a way to get in contact with it. Your little book is like a phone book, the ideas written in it, a way to get a hold of the story. With this book you’ve got its number and you can call it up to coerce and cajole it to the party taking place at the home of your word processor. This is a lot of analogies and metaphors, but I think you get the point.

The little book is important. There are times when themed anthologies will arise that you want to submit to. You’ll think, “Hey, I thought of a great idea for that a week ago while I was waiting in line at the grocery store”. If you had a little book, you would have written that idea down between putting the bags in your trunk and starting the car. Without the little book it’s possible you will remember glimpses of the idea but not the whole thing. A nugget is better than dust when it comes to literary gold, remember. You can grasp the importance, I’m sure. You’re all smart people and you probably already have a file saved in “Documents” labelled “storyideas.doc” or “bestsellers.rtf”. How often do you update it though? How many amazing tales were lost in the wind between work and getting home to your computer? Quite a few I imagine. Whole nations of ideas have been lost that way for me. A computer file is not enough.

“What about a PDA?” you ask. Expensive little book I say. Seriously, they’re great and after you figure them out, easy to use, some even have spellcheck. Here’s the thing. Have you seen the cellphone commercial where the two guys bump into each other and their cellphones go flying, they both break. The one guy says to the other, “It’s okay, the cellphone company will just replace it.” The other guy says, “I’m not with that company.” A PDA can be replaced if it gets broken, but your ideas saved in the file on that delicate – fragile – microchip can not be replaced if the handy gadget ends up under the wheels of a passing semi truck or flushed down the toilet.

If those things happened to a book, it would mostly survive and still be legible. If you absolutely need to have a digital copy, there’s no reason why you can’t type out the ideas each night on the home PC from the book. A book is also cheaper and more likely to be left where you dropped it by any passerby, making it easier for you to go back and retrieve it. A PDA will be halfway to the pawnshop by the time you realize it’s missing. You also don’t have to recharge your book. It will stand the test of time – there are copies of DaVinci’s sketchbooks in museums all over the world. How many Commodore 64s do you see in museums? Can you read the old programs on them while you check them out? Technology becomes outdated very quickly and twenty years from now, you won’t have the old technology to access the files saved on your ancient PDA (Hell, it’ll be a classic version by next year).

In other words people, your little book of ideas… should be an actual book. If you need anymore convincing, think of this: one day when you’re super famous and you die, your family will make a bundle selling it in an auction. Come to think of it, keep that in mind when you go out to buy one. Leather means they’ll get more for it, as opposed to one with Winnie the Pooh on the front.

Make sure it’s small enough to fit in your pocket or (ladies) purse. It’s good if it has a ribbon to mark your last entry page and a band to keep it closed. Mine has both and I find them very useful. Like a mini-skirt, they make for quick and easy access. Keep a ballpoint pen with your book; not a permanent marker (it bleeds through and runs when wet) or a pencil (it smudges and fades). Make sure it’s a good pen, ask for one for Christmas if you have to, but don’t skimp on the quality here. You don’t want it jamming up or running out when that Novel of the Year comes to mind. When an idea does come to mind, write it down and then leave a blank page after it before you write down your next story idea. This way if you come up with something to add later but you’ve written down a new idea since then, you still have room to embellish on the first idea. Always keep the book close. In your pocket during the day, by the bed when you got to sleep.

Now this next part will sound stranger than the rest. Don’t go back and read your ideas. Not unless you are stuck for an idea or remember a specific one for an anthology or book you really want to write.

The beauty and power of your book lay in its very existence. By being around it, it gives you confidence to come up with new ideas and write them when you are taken away by them. There will be ideas that you don’t write in the book because they have to be written right away. The little book of ideas will help you do that because you’ll never worry about running out of ideas or feel like you have to hurry up and get that mediocre idea fleshed out so you can start on the great one because you don’t want to lose both of them. It’s a failsafe. With it around, you’ll also find it easier to remember your ideas without having to look them up. Somehow its close proximity gives your creative memory a boost and keeps them fresh in your mind like a preservative does for McDonald’s fries. It’s like the airbag in your car. It’s there, you know it’s there and that makes you feel safer than if it wasn’t, you hope you never need to use it but if you do, it’s a lifesaver.

You get the idea. I know you get them, so go out and buy a little book for your ideas and write them down.

If you have any thoughts on the this post I’d be happy to hear them. Comment below and tell me about your own ways of keeping track of your ideas. I whole-heartedly encourage discussion.

Speaking of discussion. I recently approached another author to do an interview for the AWJ blog series and he has agreed. This man is a powerhouse for using modern media (the Internet) for promoting his work. He’s a ghost story master with several new books out that have simply blown me away in their ingenuity and I’ll be asking him not just about those books but also how he has come to embrace and use the Internet in his work. Hopefully I’ll be able to have that posted for June, so keep your eyes peeled and this blog bookmarked so you don’t miss it.

If you haven’t read them yet, be sure to go back and read the previous interviews with Nate Kenyon and Ray Garton. Those two gentlemen have a lot to teach. I know I’ve learned a great deal from both of them. I hope to have more interviews to post in the future and if you have any suggestions of Horror authors you’d like to see appear in a future installment of AWJ feel free to make a suggestion at anytime in the comments section.


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